March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Colorectal cancer, which includes cancers of the colon, rectum and anus, is the second deadliest cancer in the United States, after lung cancer. Although the death rate from colorectal cancer has been decreasing for the past 15 years, the American Cancer Society estimates that 57,100 people died as a result of the disease in 2003. One in 18 Americans will develop colorectal cancer in their lifetime.
Fortunately, colorectal cancers are highly treatable if found early. In fact, the survival rate for people with colorectal cancers detected in its early stages is more than 90 percent, according to the Colon Cancer Alliance.
Some people find talking about colorectal cancer uncomfortable or embarrassing, said Lawrence Wagman, M.D., chair, Division of Surgery at City of Hope Cancer Center in Los Angeles. But being aware of risk factors and taking active measures to prevent the disease through regular screening and a healthy lifestyle is very important.
Risk factors associated with colorectal cancer includethe following:
• Personal history of colorectal cancer, bowel disease or polyps
• Family history of colorectal cancer
• Being older than 50 years of age
• A diet of mostly high-fat foods.
Wagman suggests reducing the risk of developing colorectal cancer by exercising regularly, eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and limiting the consumption of high-fat foods.
Some studies also suggest that taking supplements containing folic acid, folate or calcium might reduce colorectal cancer risk.
Screening for colorectal cancer is important since many symptoms often do not appear until after the disease has advanced. Although colorectal cancer may not necessarily be the case, contact a physician if any of the following occur:
• A change in bowel habits that lasts for more than a few days
• Bleeding from the rectum
• Blood in the stool
• Cramping or gnawing stomach pains.
For more information about colorectal cancer research and treatment, contact City of Hope Cancer Center at 1-800-826-HOPE or visit www.cityofhope.org.