Colorectal Cancer: A Topic Not to Avoid

You would think Americans would talk about the nation’s third most common type of cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths, or that we would chat about a cancer that can be successfully treated 85% of the time. But we seldom talk about colorectal cancer.

Colon cancer survivor Sara Stewart says she knows why: “Colorectal cancer … involves parts of the body we’d rather never talk about,” Stewart wrote in a article last year. But, she noted, we should talk about it, because the more we talk about colorectal cancer, the more likely we are to catch cases in time to treat them. So let’s talk about colorectal cancer, starting with risk factors:

  • Age is a big risk factor (people over 50 especially are encouraged to get screened), but it’s becoming more common among younger people.
  • Black Americans are at greater risk for the disease.
  • People with a family history of colorectal cancer run a high risk.
  • A low-fiber, high-fat diet increases prevalence of the disease.
  • Other factors include heavy smoking and alcohol use, diabetes and a sedentary lifestyle.

But here’s a catch: The disease often shows up in people with few risk factors. So, watch for symptoms, including a persistent change in bowel habits, rectal bleeding or blood in your stool, abdominal pain, fatigue and unexplained weight loss. Oh, but there’s another catch: Colorectal cancer can develop with no symptoms. That’s why screening is so important.

And that brings us to the dreaded colonoscopy. While it certainly isn’t the only screening option, it does seem to be the one most likely to make a big difference. As the Cleveland Clinic reports, “Up to 85% of colorectal cancers could be prevented or successfully treated if everyone who is eligible for a colonoscopy got screened.”

Yes, colonoscopies are unpleasant, but the unpleasantness affects you just for a couple of days. The day-before prep is no fun and the actual process will likely leave you ready to lie down for a while. But, really, the thought of the procedure is usually worse than the procedure itself.

So, if you have any symptoms or risk factors, see your doctor and ask about getting screened for colon cancer. It might be an uncomfortable conversation, and it might lead to an uncomfortable procedure, but it’s worth it. As Sara Stewart said, “[A colonoscopy is] not super fun, but it’s heaven compared to cancer.”

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