If you could have more control over a colorectal cancer diagnosis, would you take it? In the United States, colorectal cancer is currently the third leading cause of cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death. But it doesn’t have to be life-threatening. In fact, a diagnosis could be avoided altogether if we took control. Scheduling a regular colonoscopy could mean the difference between life and death. As we recognize March as Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, let’s recognize our responsibility to get screened.

Are Colon Cancer and Rectal Cancer the Same?

The general term for both colon cancer and rectal cancer is colorectal cancer. However, the specific name identifies the location of the disease. Colon cancer is found in the large intestine while rectal cancer is found in the rectum—the space between the colon and the anus. Both types of cancer are extremely difficult to detect in the early stages but both offer clear warning signs in a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy will detect the presence of abnormal, noncancerous growths lining the tissue wall called polyps. Initially, polyps are non-threatening. You probably won’t even know they are there! However, if they go unnoticed, they will develop into cancer and eventually spread to other parts of your body. When the cancer is finally diagnosed in a late stage or is detected in other organs, the opportunity for successful treatment decreases.

Are There Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer?

Unfortunately, no symptoms are associated with colorectal cancer in the early stages. In fact, when symptoms do develop, they can easily be confused with another, less serious, gastrointestinal problem. Symptoms include cramping or abdominal pain, feeling as if you cannot empty your bowel, or feeling bloated. You may also notice a change in your bowel movements such as diarrhea, constipation, or a different stool consistency, or blood in your stool. Other signs include fatigue, weakness, nausea, or unintentional weight loss. You should contact your GI doctor immediately if you experience any combination of these symptoms.

Am I at Risk for Colorectal Cancer?

Your risk for developing colorectal cancer increases with age. Both men and women have a higher risk if they are over the age of 50. African Americans are at a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer than any other race. Genetics also plays a role. If a blood relative was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, your risk increases. It’s important to learn your family’s medical history and share this information with your doctor. You will be encouraged to get screened earlier if you have a family history of colorectal cancer.

Is There Anything I Can Do to Prevent Colorectal Cancer?

The short answer is, yes! You can take an active role in protecting your body from colorectal cancer. The first steps you can take include simple lifestyle changes. Adjust your diet so that you consume foods that are high in fiber and low in fat. Stop smoking and reduce your alcohol intake. Exercise for a minimum of twenty minutes at least three times each week. All of these steps will help you be more healthy overall and may prevent a future cancer diagnosis.

The absolute best way to protect your body from colorectal cancer is a regular colonoscopy. A colonoscopy will do two important things. One, it can detect cancer in an early stage—a stage that is treatable. The American Cancer Society determined that patients diagnosed with stage one colon cancer and stage 1 rectal cancer had a five-year survival rate of 92% and 88%, respectively. This percentage is encouraging compared to the five-year survival rate of 12% for those diagnosed in stage four. Two, a colonoscopy can detect the presence of precancerous polyps—and remove them—before they develop into cancer. That’s right, a colonoscopy can PREVENT colon cancer. It’s time to take control of your health. Schedule a colonoscopy at Cary Gastro today. Let us help you do your part in preventing colorectal cancer.