It’s not surprising that just mentioning the word “colorectal” causes many people to blush and recoil – but the truth of the matter is that we must push past that embarrassment to address a very real threat.

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness month and it absolutely deserves that level of attention. Colorectal cancer, which is a cancer of the colon or rectum, is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States (among cancers that affect both men and women). Tragically, 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer every year and more than 50,000 lose their lives as a result.

Get Screened

As we age, our chances of being diagnosed with colorectal cancer increases. In fact, people who are 50 years of age and older account for more than 90% of the cases.  It is important to be screened regularly. These examinations can reveal polyps which can be removed before they become cancerous.  Additionally, if cancer is present, early detection can lead to a higher chance of survival.

There are several ways your doctor can test for colorectal cancer.  The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends having a colonoscopy every 10 years, stool test every year and a sigmoidoscopy every five years.

Know The Symptoms

Screening is extremely important because, at first, there may be no symptoms at all.  There are, however, some warning signs that have become associated with precancerous polyps and colorectal cancer. If you notice blood in your stool, unexplained weight loss or stomach pain that never goes away, you should seek medical attention.

Risk Factors

Certain factors may increase your risk for developing colorectal cancer. If you have a personal or family history of the disease, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis and/or if you have genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome), it may be wise to ask your doctor about when and how often you should get tested.

Prevention

There are ways to decrease the odds of developing colorectal cancer. Maintaining a healthy weight, increasing physical activity, avoiding alcohol and cigarette smoke are all ways to reduce the risk.

Covering the Cost of Screening

The cost of colorectal cancer screening is typically covered under many insurance plans and Medicare. Some areas included in the CDC’s Colorectal Cancer Control Program offer testing to low-income individuals between the ages of 50-64 who are uninsured.

It’s easy to come up with excuses for avoiding the subject of colorectal cancer but regular screening and a healthy lifestyle could save your life.