This March—National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month—Paoli Hospital and Fox Chase Cancer Center encourage people in the community to schedule their colonoscopies. Regular screenings with a colonoscopy may help prevent colorectal cancer or find it in its early stages.
Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States in both men and women, according to the American Cancer Society. The ACS estimates that for 2012 there will be about 103,170 new cases of colon cancer and 40,290 new cases of rectal cancer.
Colon cancer begins with a growth, or polyp. By performing a colonoscopy, your doctor can find and remove polyps before they have a chance to become cancer. Fortunately, death rates from colorectal cancer have been declining in the last 20 years.
“An increase in awareness and screening has allowed us to find polyps, which could be pre-cancerous or early-stage cancers, in more and more patients, even when there are no symptoms,” says oncologist Christine Szarka, MD, The Cancer Center at Paoli Hospital.
Signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer:
- A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation, that lasts for more than a few days
- A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that doesn't go away after doing so
- Rectal bleeding, dark stool, or blood in the stool
- Cramping or stomach pain
- Weakness and fatigue
Although these symptoms may indicate another problem, it is best not to ignore them. “You know your body,” says Dr. Szarka. “If you feel something isn’t normal for you, speak with your doctor.”
Risk factors for colon cancer:
- Family history: People with a family history of colorectal cancer have a greater risk of being diagnosed with the disease.
- Age: While younger people can be diagnosed, the risk goes up significantly after age 50.
- Personal health history: Diabetics and people who have a history of colorectal polyps and inflammatory bowel disease are at increased risk.
- Lifestyle factors: A diet high in red meats and processed meats, obesity, smoking, lack of exercise, and heavy alcohol use can increase your chances of getting colorectal cancer.
The ACS says preventing colorectal cancer (and not just finding it early) should be a major reason for getting tested on a regular basis. “Have an open dialogue with your doctor about your risk factors and when you should begin getting colonoscopies,” says Michael Hall, M.D., M.S., Director of Gastrointestinal Risk Assessment at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia.
“Screening is recommended for most people beginning at age 50, but risk factors, such as a family history of colorectal cancer or a personal history of colorectal polyps or gastrointestinal disease, may mean you should begin screening earlier.”
Schedule Your Colonoscopy
As a Fox Chase Cancer Center Partner, Paoli Hospital has early access to new research discoveries on cancer prevention and treatment. Schedule an appointment for a colonoscopy with one of our doctors or visit our website learn more about our cancer services.