March: National Colon Cancer Awareness Month
March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month sponsored by the Colorectal Cancer Alliance. Since 2000, the Colorectal Cancer Alliance uses the month of March to raise awareness of colorectal cancer by wearing the color blue, raising research funds, and supporting survivors.
What is Colorectal Cancer?
Colorectal cancer is cancer that begins in the colon or rectum. The colon is one section of the large intestine while the rectum connects the colon and anus. This cancer begins when abnormal polyps that grow in the colon or rectum become cancerous if not removed. Colorectal cancer is extremely treatable when caught early. The disease continues to be treatable even when cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.
The disease strikes both genders and all racial groups. Although it usually affects those 50 and older, the cases of colorectal cancer are increasing in those younger than 50.
What Are the Symptoms?
It is vital to start colon screenings at age 50 to detect and remove polyps before they can turn cancerous. In some cases, patients will report the following symptoms:
- Changing Bowel Habits-This can include constipation, diarrhea, different consistency of stool, or narrower than normal stools.
- Constant Abdominal Pain- This can be caused by gas, bloating, cramps, and feeling like your bowels don’t empty completely.
- Rectal Bleeding- This can be bright red or dark red blood in the stool.
- Fatigue and Weakness- This can accompany unwanted weight loss, nausea, and vomiting.
What Are my Screening Options?
Depending on your age, family history, and symptoms, you and your doctor can decide which of the following screening tests is best for you:
- High-sensitivity fecal occult blood tests (FOBT)- An at-home kit that allows you to collect a tiny stool sample and send it to a lab to be checked for the presence of blood.
- Stool DNA test (FIT-DNA)- Also called Cologuard, this at-home test lets you send a small stool sample to a lab to analyze for blood and also check DNA for genes associated with colorectal cancer.
- Sigmoidoscopy- A test performed by a gastroenterologist where the doctor uses a thin, flexible, lighted tube to visually inspect the rectum and lower portion of the large intestine for polyps.
- Standard (or optical) colonoscopy- Similar to a sigmoidoscopy, this test uses the same type of tube for a visual inspection of the rectum and the entire large intestine. Any polyps will be removed during the screening.
What Are Treatment Options?
The right treatment options for colorectal cancer depends on where the cancerous polyps are located and if the cancer has spread. Treatments include:
- Laparoscopic or open surgery to remove polyps and affected portions of the large intestine
- Immuno-oncology- Biologic medication to help the immune system fight colorectal cancer
- Radiation therapy
If you’re 50 or older or experiencing the symptoms of colorectal cancer, it’s important to get a colon screening. Make an appointment with Allied Digestive Disease Center of Houston and Cypress, TX. Our team can help by providing personalized, compassionate care combined with the latest treatment options.