Monday Medical: Colorectal cancer awareness not just for those over 50 | SteamboatToday.com
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Monday Medical: Colorectal cancer awareness not just for those over 50

Risk Factors for colorectal cancer

• Age – above 50

• Family history

• Personal history of colorectal polyps

• Obesity

• Inactivity

• High Fat Diets

• Smoking

• Alcohol Use

Signs and Symptoms of colorectal cancer

• Rectal bleeding or blood in stool

• Unexplained weight loss

• Abdomen cramps or pain

• Change in bowel habits

• Weakness or fatigue

— March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and an important time to understand that while colorectal cancer is the number two cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., the disease is preventable, as well as treatable, when detected early.

Colorectal cancer refers to cancers that start in either the colon, also known as the large intestine, or the rectum. While the exact cause of colorectal cancer is not fully known, most colon cancers develop from polyps, which are not cancerous tumors, but rather a growth that can be easily removed.

Left untreated, cancer can develop in some types of polyps. Cancer can also grow in the colon or rectum walls and then spread into tissue or lymph nodes. In later stages, the cancer spreads to other vital organs, including the lung and liver.



The most effective screening for colon cancer is a colonoscopy, which is a direct exam of the colon and rectum.

The standard protocol that most know is to begin colonoscopies at the age of 50, but Jan Fritz, director of cancer services for Yampa Valley Medical Center, wants people to understand that there are other risk factors that should cause individuals to seek out a colonoscopy prior to 50.



“Knowing your family history and knowing if anyone in the family has had polyps or colon cancer is extremely important,” Fritz said.

Risk Factors for colorectal cancer

• Age – above 50

• Family history

• Personal history of colorectal polyps

• Obesity

• Inactivity

• High Fat Diets

• Smoking

• Alcohol Use

Additionally, she points out that it’s imperative to look out for signs of the disease including rectal bleeding, change in bowel habits, pain or cramps in the lower abdomen and blood in the stool. These signs should be cause for alarm, and an individual should contact their doctor right away as these can be indicators of more advanced stages of colorectal cancer.

In many cases, however, especially in younger people these issues are ignored.

“A lot of people think that bleeding in the stool is just a hemorrhoid but that really needs to be investigated,” Fritz said. “Just because you’re 37, doesn’t mean that bleeding has to be a hemorrhoid. Nobody knows until we actually go and look.”

Another important sign that shouldn’t be ignored is weight loss, a symptom associated with many other health issues.

Signs and Symptoms of colorectal cancer

• Rectal bleeding or blood in stool

• Unexplained weight loss

• Abdomen cramps or pain

• Change in bowel habits

• Weakness or fatigue

“People will come in and say, I’ve lost like 15 or 20 pounds without trying,” said Fritz. “That’s a big sign that something is going on.”

Other risk factors for colorectal cancer include inactivity, smoking, drinking and obesity. It’s believed that eating an abundance of red meat can contribute to the disease, as it takes longer to digest in the intestines. African Americans also have a higher rate of colorectal cancer.

Receiving a colonoscopy requires individuals to “prepare” their colon by restricting certain food and drink in the days before the procedure and drinking a bowel-cleansing solution. Fritz points out that for some people, and especially younger people who have completed a cleansing diet, there is familiarity with the process.

Fritz also wants people to know that the procedure itself should not be feared.

“You can take medication to make you feel a little relaxed. The procedure is totally explained, and you can even watch,” Fritz said. “The endoscopes are smaller, and it’s really not a long procedure. It can be done very quickly, very comfortably and then you go home.”

The bottom line is that it’s important and easy for individuals to take steps that can detect the early signs of colorectal cancer and a colonoscopy is the most powerful tool in the prevention and identification process. While stage one discoveries have over a 90 percent survival rate, only 39 percent of colorectal cancer is found at an early stage, a direct result of low screening numbers. Talk to your doctor today if you are at risk for, or are showing symptoms of colorectal cancer.

This article includes information from the American Cancer Society.

Nick Esares is a marketing and communications specialist at Yampa Valley Medical Center.


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