March is soon upon us, and with it the designation of Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. The American Cancer Society has designated certain months of the year to raise awareness of different cancers. The reason colorectal cancer won a designated month is due to its prevalence as the third most common cancer in men and women. More alarming is that we have been seeing a trend towards earlier diagnosis of colorectal cancer in the 4th decade of life. This had lead to a recent change in the recommendation for screening to begin at age 45 rather than 50 in those at average risk. Higher risk individuals (e.g. those with inflammatory bowel disease or a family history of colon cancer) should have their screening exam earlier and should speak to their gastroenterologist about the appropriate timing.
Colon cancer may present with a change in bowel habits, blood in the stool, unexplained weight loss, or the finding of anemia on routine blood work. On some occasions, it may not present symptoms and may be found on routine screening. Colon cancer typically arises from polyps, which are small, benign growths in the colon, usually not causing any symptoms at all. Polyps are usually removed painlessly and with ease during a colonoscopy, which is performed under anesthesia and takes about 15 to 20 minutes to complete. This makes colorectal cancer one of the most highly preventable cancers.
If you are 45 years or older, have a family history of colon cancer, have inflammatory bowel disease, or are experiencing any symptoms of concern, speak to your doctor today about whether a colonoscopy is appropriate for you. Remember, you are ultimately your own best advocate for your health!
-Dr. Marc Fiorillo