March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.
Colorectal cancer is expected to claim the lives of more than 52,000 Americans this year, according to the American Cancer Society.
This is why, as the world tries to return to a sort of normalcy after the COVID-19 pandemic, doctors say health screenings – particularly for cancer – should be made an urgent priority.
“Colorectal cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, yet about a quarter of people ages 50 to 75 have never been screened for this devastating disease,” said Dr. Michael Barry, vice chair of the US Preventive Services Task Force, or USPSTF, a panel of national experts in disease prevention and evidence-based medicine.
“Fortunately, we know that screening for colorectal cancer is effective and saves lives,” Barry said.
Doctors are trying to raise awareness that even people in their 40s should be getting screened. Thankfully, there are multiple ways to reduce the risk of colon cancer, including understanding when you should get screened.
Get screened: The most effective way to reduce your risk of colon cancer is to get screened routinely, beginning at age 45, according to the USPSTF. With expanded screening guidelines, more people can be screened for colorectal cancer resulting in significantly more lives saved. Several testing options are available – some are completed annually while others may be done every 10 years. Together, doctors and patients should consider which screening option is best for them.
“Colonoscopies help identify polyps or precancerous growths as well as potentially provide treatment by removal at the same time” says Dr. Madhu Vennikandam, a gastroenterology fellow at Sparrow Hospital, an affiliate of Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.
Know your family history: Doctors say it’s essential to know whether your mother or father’s side of the family has a history of colon cancer. If there is a family history, you should start screening at age 40, or 10 years before the diagnosis of the youngest first degree relative.
Barry adds, “people who have any signs or symptoms of colorectal cancer or a personal history of colorectal cancer, polyps, or a personal or family history of genetic disorders should talk to their clinicians to ensure they get the care they need”.
Monitor diet: Medical experts recommend eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grain while eating less beef, pork and processed meats.
Stop smoking: There are at least 70 chemicals in tobacco products which can cause cancer. According to a study published in the Clinical and Translational Gastroenterology journal, current smokers are estimated to have a 48% higher risk of colon cancer than people who never smoke.
Weight loss and exercise: Obesity (defined as a BMI greater than 30) is linked with a higher risk of 13 types of cancers, including colorectal cancer. In men, colorectal cancer is the most common obesity-associated cancer. With just 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily, you could reduce your risk of having the disease.
“Fortunately, we know that colorectal cancer screening is effective and saves lives. If you’re 45 or older, talk to your clinician about this life-saving screening,” said Barry.
Pooja Sharma, MD, is a family medicine resident at Emory University in Atlanta and a contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit.