March Is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month
Among cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon or rectum) is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Every year, about 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and more than 50,000 people die from it.
How Can You Reduce Your Risk?
The risk of getting colorectal cancer increases with age. More than 90% of cases occur in people who are 50 years old or older. Colorectal cancer screening saves lives, but many people are not being screened according to national guidelines.
If you’re 50 years old or older, getting a screening test for colorectal cancer could save your life. Here’s how—
- Colorectal cancer screening helps find precancerous polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. In this way, colorectal cancer is prevented.
- Screening tests also can find colorectal cancer early, when treatment often leads to a cure.
In addition to increasing the intensity and amount of your physical activity, avoiding obesity and weight gain around the midsection, and not drinking too much alcohol, you can also lower your colorectal cancer risk by not smoking. The 2014 Surgeon General’s Report, The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of ProgressExternal Web Site Icon concluded that smoking causes colorectal cancer. If you smoke, quit smoking completely. For help quitting, call 1 (800) QUIT-NOW, text the word “QUIT” to 47848 from your mobile phone, or visit smokefree.gov.External Web Site Icon If you don’t smoke, don’t start, and avoid secondhand smoke.
What Are the Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer?
Precancerous polyps and colorectal cancer don’t always cause symptoms, especially at first. You could have polyps or colorectal cancer and not know it. That is why having a screening test is so important. Symptoms for colorectal cancer may include—
- Blood in or on the stool (bowel movement).
- Stomach pain, aches, or cramps that do not go away.
- Losing weight and you don’t know why.
These symptoms may be caused by something other than cancer. If you have any of these symptoms, the only way to know what is causing them is to see your doctor.
When Should You Begin to Get Screened?
You should begin screening for colorectal cancer soon after turning 50, then keep getting screened regularly until the age of 75. Ask your doctor if you should be screened if you’re older than 75.
Some people are at a higher risk than others for developing colorectal cancer. Having any of these things may increase your risk—
- Inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis.
- A personal or family history of colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps.
- A genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)External Web Site Icon or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome).External Web Site Icon
If you think you may be at high risk for colorectal cancer, talk to your doctor about when and how often to get tested.
What Are the Screening Tests for Colorectal Cancer?
Several tests are available to screen for colorectal cancer. Some are used alone; others are used in combination with each other. Talk with your doctor about which test or tests are best for you. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends these testsExternal Web Site Icon to screen for colorectal cancer—
- Colonoscopy (every 10 years).
- High-sensitivity fecal occult blood test (FOBT), stool test, or fecal immunochemical test (FIT) (every year).
- Sigmoidoscopy (every 5 years, with FOBT every three years).
Screening for colorectal cancer is covered under the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010. Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get screened at no cost to you.
- If you have Medicare, find out about Medicare coverage for different colorectal cancer tests.
- If you have private insurance, check with your insurance provider to find out what’s included in your plan. Ask about the Affordable Care Act.
- If you don’t have insurance, you can still get important screening tests. To learn more, find a health center near you.