As a member of the bipartisan Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program of the Prevent Cancer Foundation®, I want to share the following information as we observe National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.
More than 145,000 Americans will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer and an estimated 51,020 will die of the disease this year. In North Dakota alone, an estimated 350 will be diagnosed and 120 will die of the disease. Fewer people overall are being diagnosed because it’s one of the few cancers that can be prevented with screening, but rates are rising among people younger than age 50.
Although more research needs to be done, recent studies indicate that obesity and a sedentary lifestyle may be partly to blame for this increase among younger adults. Smoking, drinking alcohol in excess, and eating a lot of red or processed meats increases your risk for colorectal cancer and may be contributing to rising rates. Having a personal or family history of colorectal cancer or polyps (abnormal growths), certain genetic conditions such as Lynch syndrome, or a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease or type 2 diabetes also puts you at greater risk.
Colorectal cancer doesn’t usually show symptoms until it’s more advanced — when it’s harder to treat. Visit a health care professional if you experience rectal bleeding, blood in the stool, a change in bowel habits or stool shape, the feeling that the bowel movement is not complete, abdominal bloating or cramps, loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss.
With screening, your doctor can detect polyps that can then be monitored or removed before becoming cancer. The most effective screening method is the colonoscopy, which should be done every 10 years from age 45 until at least age 75, for those at average risk. You can also talk to your health care professional about other options, such as CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) or at-home stool tests—the best test is the one that gets done. Those at high risk may need to begin screening earlier or be screened more often.
Colorectal cancer is preventable, treatable and beatable — if the right steps are taken. Don’t smoke, exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet — and don’t put off screening. To learn more about colorectal cancer prevention, visit www.preventcancer.org/colorectal.
Mikey Hoeven is the spouse of Senator John Hoeven. Statistics provided by the American Cancer Society.