The month of March has been named National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, so now’s a good time to reflect on what awareness means, and how talking about a specific condition, its symptoms and treatment, can make a world of difference.
It seems hard to believe in these days of 5K fundraising walks and awareness ribbons and bracelets of every color imaginable, but cancer was once an illness that was only whispered about. This was partly due to the overwhelmingly poor prognosis that cancer patients faced prior to the 1980s, but also to the general taboo about speaking of conditions that were considered terminal. Colorectal cancer was a particularly unspoken subject because of its association with bodily waste, but all of that changed dramatically in 1985, when President Ronald Reagan made public that he would be undergoing surgery for colon cancer.
The media coverage that followed Reagan’s surgery generated a marked increase in calls to the National Cancer Institute about the disease, as well as an upswing in the number of screening tests that were done and the number of cases that were detected. In 1998 the phenomenon repeated itself when television personality Katie Couric’s husband died of the disease and she became a powerful advocate for awareness and prevention. Couric was instrumental in the creation of the National Colon Cancer Research Alliance, gave testimony on Capital Hill regarding screening, and even televised her own colonoscopy in order to eliminate the mystique and fear surrounding the procedure. Since that time, screening for colorectal cancer has become common, and there has been a six-fold increase of patients whose cancers were detected early and whose lives have been saved as a result. Colorectal cancer has become the poster child for the power of raising awareness.
Because colonoscopy has become a part of standard preventive care, many people are diagnosed before they ever begin to experience symptoms of the disease. Those who do generally report seeing blood in their stools following a bowel movement, having aches and pains in their stomach that do not subside, or losing weight without explanation. Though these symptoms do not always result in a cancer diagnosis, they certainly warrant making an appointment with your physician to get to the root of the problem. See your doctor if you have any of these warning signs:
National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month is a great time to give yourself a health check, especially if you’re 50 and older. Colon cancer can be prevented with regular screening. Check out our screening guidelines and talk to your doctor today! Preventing colorectal cancer (and not just finding it early) should be a major reason for getting tested. Having polyps found and removed keeps some people from getting colorectal cancer. Tests that have the best chance of finding both polyps and cancer are preferred if these tests are available to you and you are willing to have them.
Starting at age 50, men and women at average risk for developing colorectal cancer should use one of the screening tests below:
*Colonoscopy should be done if test results are positive.
Another great way to reduce your risk of colon cancer is to eat healthy and exercise. Do you eat at least 2 ½ cups of vegetables and fruit every day? Do you get enough physical activity each week? Find out if you’re living smart with the American Cancer Society’s quiz. See if you already have healthy habits. Take the Quiz Now.
According to the National Cancer Institute’s SEER database, the following survival rates are from a study of people diagnosed with colon cancer between 2004 and 2010.
Timely evaluation of symptoms consistent with colorectal cancer is essential, even for adults younger than age 50, among whom colorectal cancer incidence is rare, but increasing, and for whom screening is not recommended.
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