St. Patrick’s Day is just a couple of weeks away. That’s fun, right? All that green (the right to pinch people if they fail to wear the green), four-leaf clovers, leprechauns, and perhaps some adult beverages (if you’re 21 or over, of course). Yes indeed, that’s what March is all about!
That’s just one day, though.
Before, during, and after, March is dedicated to another topic that isn’t nearly as fun but is absolutely critical: colorectal cancer. It’s okay if the idea makes you squirm. Unlike St. Patty’s Day, it’s not exactly fun to think about. Nevertheless, March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month – and there are lots of reasons it’s worth squirming a bit to take advantage of the month and up your own awareness level.
Bad news first: Colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon or rectum, and it’s a threat equally to men and women. It’s the third most common type of non-skin cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States after lung cancer. Every year, 2014 included, 136,830 people are diagnosed with colorectal cancer. An estimated 50,310 will die from the disease. And, perhaps surprising to some, there are risk factors that you can control – and some you can’t – that factor in to your odds of contracting colorectal cancer. The things you can’t control but need to be aware of: If you’re over 50, or have personal or family histories of colorectal cancer or benign colorectal polyps, inflammatory bowel disease, or other inherited colorectal problems, you’re going to be at a higher risk for getting the disease. On the other hand, there are numerous risk factors you do control: Smoking, being overweight or obese (especially if the excess weight is around the waist), being physically inactive, drinking in excess (especially for men), and eating a lot of red meat or processed meat will increase your risk level.
Now, the good news: Getting screened regularly is not only possible, it’s recommended. And it makes a difference. It’s estimated that if everyone over the age of 50 were screened regularly, 6 out of 10 colorectal cancer deaths could be prevented. Early detection is key, as treatment is both easier and more successful when it is started before symptoms start to present. Finding and removing polyps, for example, may be one of the most effective ways to prevent colorectal cancer from developing. Screenings also help detect nonpolypoid lesions (flat or slightly depressed areas of abnormal cell growth) and other conditions that may alert your doctor to any potential problems. There are several types of screenings available (Fecal occult blood test, sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, virtual colonoscopy, double contrast barium enema), and different methods will make more sense for different individuals. Once you have chosen to get screened, you’ll want to discuss with your doctor which screening might be the most appropriate for you.
There’s nothing fun about colorectal cancer or colorectal cancer screenings. That’s okay, though. Have fun on March 17th celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. The rest of March? Embrace Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Knowing about the disease and whether or not you’re at risk or need to be screened might not be fun, but it could very well be life-saving.