As March arrives, the nation will recognize this month as Colorectal Awareness Month. This is an excellent time to learn more about the disease, to participate in public awareness campaigns, and to also schedule an appointment for a colorectal cancer screening. Help spread the message to our family and loved ones about the lifesaving benefits of regular testing for early detection of this disease.
Visit the Colorectal Cancer Alliance website for a list of this year’s national fundraising events. Spread the word about colon cancer in March, and help raise awareness and funds to find better early detection methods, to educate the public on pro-colon health and wellness practices, and to support research efforts hoping to discover an aggressive cures.
To understand the magnitude of this disease on society, a few key statistics were released this year by The American Cancer Society:
- estimates 97,220 new cases of colon cancer to be reported in 2018
- about 1 in 24 women have a lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer
- colorectal cancer is expected to cause about 50,630 deaths during 2018
- Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths
Today, we know there are benefits found in living a healthy lifestyle to reduce the risk of colon cancer. Studies have shown that limiting our intake of processed meats along with limiting red meat to less than two servings per week are beneficial.
A lack of physical activity and obesity tend to increase insulin levels – which in turn may help increase the growth of cancer cells. Getting even a minimum amount of exercise is helpful – but, ideally we should strive for 150 minutes of some type of cardio exercise every week.
What are the Warning Signs
Early detection is key to successful colorectal cancer treatment and survival. In addition to regular screening, a blood test which shows a low red blood cell count (anemia) can be an indirect symptom of digestive tract bleeding – but may be caused by colorectal cancer. Other possible warning signs can include:
- abdominal pain or cramping
- bowel movement pressure without relief
- rectal bleeding of bright red blood
- changing bowel habits, such as constipation or diarrhea
- narrow stools lasting longer than a few days
- unexpected weight loss
- increased fatigue or weakness
Scheduling a colonoscopy is key to detecting colon cancer, because many of the above symptoms can be a sign of other health issues, such hemorrhoids, an infection, or irritable bowel syndrome.
Since early detection increases the prognosis for a full recovery, if you display these symptoms on a regular basis or for an extended period of time, it is important to see a medical professional immediately.
Common Treatments for Colorectal Cancer
Treatment for colorectal cancer depends on which stage of progress the disease has entered. Stage 0 is the earliest stage, which means the cancer has spread less. Therefore, treatment for Stage 1 cancer will look differently than therapies prescribed for a patient with Stage four colorectal cancer. Even within stages, each cancer patient will have a different experience, even when treated in a similar manner.
While there are new and progressive therapies being developed, such as stem cell transplants and the use of laser or photodynamic therapies, the standard treatment protocols are advanced versions of treatments that have been practiced for years.
Surgery is not only used to diagnose colon cancer by taking a microscopic sample of cells (biopsy) and performing tests, it is also used to determine how far the cancer has spread. If cancer is found only in one location, often surgery is used with good results to remove the mutated cells.
Radiation therapy is used in the early stages of cancer to shrink or destroy the cancer cells at a primary location, while chemotherapy uses high levels of drugs which pass through the entire body to kill cancer cells that have spread away from the primary cancerous tumor (metastatic). Each of these therapies have been in use for many years and each have specific goals towards controlling or curing colorectal cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, 92% of people with stage 1 colon cancer are alive after 5 years, while stage 3B cancer survival rate is 69%. The numbers drop drastically for stage 4 survival rates, which are about 11% after a five year period. The stark difference in survival rates point to the critical importance of early detection and treatment of colon cancer.