Published on March 08, 2021

Colon Cancer Screening is Important to YOU

family fishing

Colon and rectal cancer (CRC) remain the second leading cause of cancer death for men and women equally. March is National Colon Cancer Awareness Month and a good time to learn more.

About 75% of all new cases of colon cancer occur in people with no known predisposing factors for the disease. Incidence increases with age, beginning around age 40.

Colon cancer is ideally suited for early detection and prevention due to the fact that polyps (small non-cancerous growths) develop in the colon and over time can become a cancer. This allows the opportunity, if taken, to have screening tests done to remove the premalignant polyps.

Because of increased awareness and screening, the incidence and mortality rates of CRC have decreased, after having consistently increased over the past few decades. However, in Mississippi, there is still a long way to go. Despite convincing evidence supporting colon cancer screening, only about 64% of eligible Mississippians have testing done.

Warning Signs

CRC begins with no symptoms at all. Over time, warning signs can include:

  • Rectal bleeding and blood in your stool (bright red, black or very dark)
  • Change in your bowel movements, especially in the shape of the stool (narrow like a pencil)
  • Cramping in your lower abdomen or frequent gas pains
  • Discomfort in or the urge to move your bowels when there is no need
  • Weight loss without dieting
  • Constant fatigue

Who is at Risk?

Everyone over age 45 should get screening done. High risk factors include:

  • Family history of either colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps, especially if below age 60
  • Personal history of adenomatous polyps or inflammatory bowel disease
  • Family history of multiple cancers, involving the breast, ovary, uterus and other organs also increases risk. Screening maybe considered earlier in those with these risk factors.

Screening Options

  • Colonoscopy, an endoscopic test that evaluates the entire colon, allows treatment of polyps at the same time. Some sedation is used, and a colon cleansing prep is required the day before. When performed by a trained gastroenterologist, this is the best test available. Colonoscopy is preventative as well by aiding in removal of precancerous polyps!
  • Stool testing such as FIT tests for blood in the stool and Cologuard test stool for blood and for changes in the DNA found in polyps and cancers. If these are positive, then a colonoscopy is recommended.

Lifestyle Changes

  • Red meat intake is associated with increased risk of CRC, though the reasons are unclear.
  • Though the evidence is mixed, a high fiber diet appears to reduce CRC risk and has other benefits to the gastrointestinal system.
  • Whole fruits and vegetables protect against CRC.
  • Calcium supplements, in the presence of adequate levels of vitamin D, help protect against CRC.
  • With the exception of calcium and folate, there is little reason to recommend supplements (such as antioxidant vitamins, trace metals).
  • Smoking increases CRC risk.
  • Alcohol increases the risk of CRC, particularly in the presence of low folate levels.
  • Physical activity reduces CRC risk while obesity increases it.

Talk to Your Doctor

Talk with your primary health care provider or gastroenterologist about colon cancer and screening options. Gastroenterologists are medical specialists with extensive training in diseases of the digestive tract and endoscopy.

Colon cancer screening is important. It is unfortunate that in the early stage of colon cancer, when it is most curable, there are frequently no symptoms. Screening is the only way to find and treat polyps or the precursors of colon cancer. If a polyp is removed, it cannot develop into cancer, and colon cancer has been prevented. Take an active step in your health care and get screened for colon cancer!

Helping Colon Cancer Patients

Living with cancer is never easy. The NMMC Cancer Care Fund helps ease the burden by providing assistance with needs like pain and anti-nausea medications, nutritional supplements, transportation to treatment and other necessities. For everyone’s safety, our 2021 colon cancer fundraising events are all virtual. Here’s how you can help:

  1. Register here by making a donation to the NMMC Cancer Care Fund.
  2. Follow the Facebook event page.
  3. Run or walk a 5K anytime during March! Post your time in the Facebook event page and we will cheer for you!
  4. Everyone who donates and posts their time will be entered to win prizes in a drawing on Facebook Live.

BONUS: Post on the event page and tell us WHY you Run for Your Buns, and you'll be entered twice in the drawing!

Not a runner but still want to support local colon cancer patients? The Blue Tie Affair, our other colon cancer awareness event, is also virtual. Please consider a Blue Tie Affair donation—100% of your donations to funds administered through the Health Care Foundation go to their intended purpose, never administrative or overhead costs.

About 75% of all new cases of colon cancer occur in people with no known risk factors for the disease. Incidence increases beginning around age 40.