March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. The month helps focus attention on the fact that colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men and women combined in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Because of this statistic, it’s important to know that colorectal cancer is preventable. The CDC reports that 90 percent of people diagnosed with the cancer in its early stages will survive longer than five years.
Colorectal cancer, often called colon cancer, is caused by cancer cells forming in the colon (the large intestine) or the rectum (the passageway that connects the colon to the anus—see Figure 1, image National Cancer Institute). Sometimes people don’t have any signs of the disease. But if they do the symptoms include:
1. Blood in or on bowel movements
2. Stomach pain that doesn’t go away
3. Losing weight without knowing why
The risk of getting colon cancer increases with age. People who have inflammatory bowel disease or a personal or family history of polyps or colon cancer are at a higher risk. Diets high in red or processed meat, obesity, lack of physical activity, smoking and alcohol use are also risk factors