FirstHealth of the Carolinas launched its annual Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month reminder on March 1 to raise awareness about the importance of colon (or colorectal) cancer screenings.
Of cancers affecting both men and women, colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon and rectum) is the second leading cancer killer in the United States. The American Cancer Society’s (ACS) estimates for the number of colorectal cancer cases in the United States for 2018 are:
- 97,220 new cases of colon cancer
- 43,030 new cases of rectal cancer
The good news? The ACS has found that the death rate (the number of deaths per 100,000 people per year) from colorectal cancer has been dropping in both men and women for several decades. There are a number of likely reasons for this. One is that colorectal polyps are now being found more often by screening and removed before they can develop into cancers or are being found earlier when the disease is easier to treat. In addition, treatment for colorectal cancer has improved over the last few decades. As a result, there are now more than one million survivors of colorectal cancer in the United States.
FirstHealth is working diligently to spread the word about the importance of colorectal cancer screenings in an effort to make these screenings a routine part of preventive health care.
Michael S. Batalo, M.D., an oncologist and hematologist with the FirstHealth Outpatient Cancer Center, offers tips on how to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer:
- Time to get screened. Get a colonoscopy if you are between the ages of 50 – 75 or earlier if you are at high risk for colorectal cancer. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend discussing screening with your primary care provider if between the ages of 76 – 85. People at a higher risk, such as those with a strong family history of colorectal cancer (including genetic cancer syndromes with higher risk for colorectal cancer development) or those with known inflammatory bowel diseases, may benefit from starting screenings at an earlier age. Also, it is recommended that African-Americans begin their screening at age 45. A colonoscopy detects more than 95 percent of early colorectal cancer. The procedure also prevents colorectal cancer because a doctor can remove polyps (small growths) that may develop into cancer if left alone.
- Quit smoking. Long-term smoking is linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer, as well as many other cancers and health problems. Quitting smoking may help lower you risk of colorectal cancer and other types of cancer.
- Manage your weight. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of colorectal cancer in both men and women, but the link seems to be stronger in men. Having more belly fat has also been linked to colorectal cancer. Staying at a healthy weight and avoiding weight gain around the midsection may help lower your risk.
- Start eating healthier. Overall, diets that are high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains (and low in red and processed meats) have been linked with lower colorectal cancer risk, although it’s not exactly clear which factors are important. Many studies have found a link between red meats (beef, pork and lamb) or processed meats (such as hot dogs, sausage and lunch meats) and increased colorectal cancer risk. Limiting red and processed meats and eating more vegetables and fruits may help lower your risk.
- Avoid alcohol. Avoiding alcohol consumption could have many health benefits, including reducing your risk of developing colorectal cancer.
- Move more. Increasing your level of activity lowers your risk of colorectal cancer and polyps. Regular moderate activity (doing things that make you breathe as hard as you would during a brisk walk) lowers the risk, but vigorous activity might have an even greater benefit. Increasing the intensity and amount of your physical activity may help reduce your risk.
Screening colonoscopies for colorectal cancer are performed by gastroenterologists. For information on gastroenterologists in the FirstHealth of the Carolinas service area, visit www.firsthealth.org/50.