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Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

Published: 01 Mar 2020

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in the United States. The American Cancer Society is encouraging people all around the world to raise awareness, to help identify the symptoms and spread the word that this is one of the cancers you can be screened for.

To aim the campaign, we’ve gathered together some key points about this type of cancer that you may find helpful.

Here are a few stats about Colorectal Cancer (or Bowel Cancer in the UK)

Because the survival rate is so much higher following an early diagnosis, it is very important that you take up the offer of screening - if your healthcare system offers it.  If not, and you feel you fall into a high-risk category, you may want to ask your doctor.

Causes of Colorectal Cancer

Although there is still more research required to determine the exact causes, studies have shown that the frequency of bowel cancer is greater in countries that eat a diet high in fat and low in fiber. It has also been suggested that high alcohol intake, particularly of beer, may be linked to this cancer.  

However, there are also things that you can’t change 

If you fall into the latter group, ask your doctor about early screening.

Symptoms of colorectal cancer

It’s not easy to spot because many of the symptoms can be caused by conditions other than colorectal cancer, such as infection, hemorrhoids, or irritable bowel syndrome. But if you have any of these problems, it’s important to see your doctor right away so the cause can be found and treated:

If your symptoms have lasted six or more weeks, you need to see a specialist.

How can colorectal cancer be diagnosed? 

Screening

Luckily you can be screened for colorectal cancer.  As with all cancers the earlier you catch it, the better the outcome.   
In the US screening starts at 45 years of age, in the UK, if you are generally in good health, you'll have to wait until you're 60 (on the NHS). But every country is different so check with your doctor.   
Some people may be at higher risk based on their family health history and other risk factors so might need to start testing earlier. 

A screening test is used to look for a disease when a person doesn’t have symptoms. Colorectal cancer almost always develops from precancerous polyps (abnormal growths) in the colon or rectum. Screening tests can find precancerous polyps so that they can be removed before they turn into cancer. 

Generally, screening will require a stool sample and a colonoscopy, which is a visual examination of the colon and rectum for any abnormal areas. This is done either with a scope (a tube-like instrument with a light and tiny video camera on the end) put into the rectum or with special imaging (x-ray) tests.

Further tests

If the screening requires further investigation or you have already started to develop symptoms, you may undergo one or more of the following procedures:

Treatment

If you’re diagnosed with colorectal cancer, treatment will usually be an operation to remove the cancer and/or to relieve your symptoms. You may also have chemotherapy or radiotherapy as well as an operation.


​​Many people do not know the symptoms of this cancer and, furthermore, do not know that screening exists – so please do your bit and spread the word.

Sources: The American Cancer Society, Cancer Research UK, Royal Marsden Hospital, Centers forDisease Control and Prevention (US)

If you or anyone you know has been affected by colorectal cancer, you can find support and advice from people fighting cancer right now, on the Facebook Chemotherapy Support Group.


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