Know the signs of Colorectal Cancer
Denise F. Harr, MD, Capital BlueCross | 03.02.17
Colon cancer is something many people don't like to talk about, but it is one of the most commonly occurring cancers in the United States. About 1 in 20 Americans will be diagnosed during their lifetime.
March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness month, and all of us should take the time to be aware of its symptoms and ways to prevent it from occurring. Usually there are little or no symptoms of colorectal cancer as it is developing, so the best way to detect it early is through regular screening. That is when the chance of survival is the greatest. Once symptoms start to occur, successful treatment is much more difficult.
Here are the most common signs of colorectal cancer:
- A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool that lasts for more than a few days.
- A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by doing so.
- Rectal bleeding
- Blood in the stool, which may make it look dark
- Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Unintended weight loss
The American Cancer Society recommends you start regular screenings, such as a colonoscopy, at age 50. A colonoscopy allows the doctor to look directly the lining of the colon and rectum to make sure there are no polyps or growths. But, you don't have to wait until you're 50 to incorporate lifestyle habits to prevent colorectal cancer. The following steps will help protect your colon health:
- Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Fiber rich foods such as apples, pears, oranges, broccoli and corn increase your colon health by helping to keep you regular and prevent constipation.
- Get regular exercise
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Don't smoke. Long-term smokers are more likely to develop and die from colon cancer.
- Limit your alcohol. Colon cancer has been linked to heavy drinking.
- Limit red meat and foods that are high in fat.
- Avoid processed, salted, smoked, or cured meats such as bacon, sausage, and hot dogs.
You should also know your risk factors. If you have a family history of colon cancer and per-cancerous polyps, you may be likely to develop it at an earlier age. Also, conditions such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease and type 2 diabetes can increase your risk. Consult with your doctor if you are concerned about your risk factors. In the meantime, a healthy diet and exercise can go a long way in keeping your colon and your entire body healthy!
Dr. Denise Harr is Senior Medical Director of Medical Value Initiatives at Capital BlueCross and is board certified in family medicine. She joined Capital BlueCross in May 2012, after spending fifteen years as a clinician in an active primary care practice in Central Pennsylvania. Dr. Harr is a graduate of Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biochemistry. She earned her Medical Degree at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine.