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The American Association for Cancer Research has designated March as Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Awareness months for various diseases raise awareness not just for those who suffer from a disease but for everyone. The information published about these conditions promotes early detection and prevention and shows how to support those with the condition. 

At Northwest Specialty Hospital (NWSH), we believe it is essential to highlight this disease, the fourth most common type of cancer. Every year, over 150,000 cases of colorectal cancer are diagnosed in the United States, and over 50,000 men and women die from it. Colorectal cancer more often affects older adults; most cases arise in individuals who are in their sixties, but it can occur at any age.


Overview of Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is often referred to as colon cancer, as it originates in the colon, the first and longest part of the large intestine. The term “colorectal” cancer encompasses both colon cancer and rectal cancer, the latter starting in the rectum. This type of cancer typically begins as non-cancerous clumps of cells called polyps. While most polyps are harmless, some can become cancerous over time. Regular screening tests are crucial to detecting and removing polyps, thereby preventing the development of colorectal cancer. The most commonly used screening test is a colonoscopy.

In the early stages, colon cancer may not exhibit any noticeable symptoms to those who have it. However, as the disease progresses, it may manifest itself in different ways, including causing a change in bowel habits, rectal bleeding, abdominal discomfort, a feeling of incomplete bowel emptying, weakness, tiredness, and unintentional weight loss. If any of these symptoms develop and persist, you should consult your healthcare provider and explain what you are experiencing. 


Understanding Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause of most colon cancers remains unknown. However, the disease occurs when cells in the colon undergo DNA changes, prompting uncontrolled cell multiplication. These changes allow cancer cells to persist as healthy cells die, leading to the formation of a mass or tumor. If left untreated, cancer cells invade and destroy tissues that surround the original site of the tumor. Ultimately, they can spread to other parts of the body, a condition called metastasis or metastatic cancer.

While it is difficult to pinpoint a cause, several factors have been shown to increase the risk of colon cancer, including age, race, personal or family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, having an inflammatory bowel disease, and certain inherited syndromes. In addition, consuming a low-fiber, high-fat diet, not getting regular exercise, smoking, drinking excessive alcohol, being diabetic, being obese, and having had previous abdominal radiation therapy for cancer can also contribute to an increased risk.


Prevention and Early Detection

For colorectal cancer, early detection is crucial. Doctors recommend regular screenings, especially for individuals over 45 or those with a family history of colon cancer. Various screening tests are available, and individuals should discuss their options with their healthcare team.

Altering your diet and lifestyle can reduce the risk of contracting colorectal cancer. Your diet should contain high levels of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Limit alcohol intake, quit smoking, engage in regular physical activity, and maintain a healthy weight. For those at a higher risk, certain medications, such as aspirin, may help reduce the risk of colon polyps or cancer. Still, their usage can have unintended consequences, and patients should discuss such measures with healthcare professionals before embarking on any medical regimen.

If colorectal cancer does develop, there are various treatment options available. These include surgery, radiation therapy, and medications such as chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy. A combination of these therapies may be used in many cases, particularly if the cancer has reached advanced stages.

As we observe Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, NWSH emphasizes the importance of education, early detection, and proactive measures in confronting the possibility of developing colorectal cancer. Statistics show that one in 24 people are diagnosed with colorectal cancer at some stage during their life, so the likelihood that you or someone close to you will get colorectal cancer is high. By understanding the risk factors, recognizing symptoms, and adopting a healthy lifestyle, we can collectively work to reduce the impact of this disease and save lives. 

To learn more or to schedule an appointment with NWSH for a colonoscopy, contact NWSH today. Take charge of your health, prioritize regular screenings, and spread awareness to ensure a healthier future. Together, we can make strides in preventing and managing colorectal cancer.

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