March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.
Colorectal cancer is usually is found in people age 50 or older, but people younger than 50 can also develop colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer affects Alaska Natives twice as much as the general population.
The good news is prevention and early screening can reduce the rates of colorectal cancer, and they can make it easier to survive if caught early. Precancerous polyps can be detected and removed during screening procedures, before they become cancer.
“More than 60 percent of all colorectal cancer cases can be prevented with recommended screening,” said Litia Garrison, program director for the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium Colorectal Health Program.
You can reduce your risk for developing colorectal cancer by getting regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, and eating a healthy diet that includes five or more servings of a variety of vegetables and fruits daily. To further lower your cancer risk, choose whole grains rather than processed (refined) grains, and limit your intake of processed and red meats. Being tobacco-free and avoiding alcohol also reduces your risk of colorectal cancer.
The early stages of colorectal cancer have few symptoms, which makes screening more important. Symptoms include blood in the bowel movement; diarrhea, constipation or feeling like the bowel doesn’t empty completely; frequent gas pain, bloating, fullness and/or cramps in the abdomen; a change in bowel habits; always feeling tired; nausea and vomiting; or losing weight for no apparent reason.
All adults age 50 and older should discuss colorectal cancer screening with their health care provider. Younger adults may need screening earlier, especially if they have a personal or family history of colorectal cancer or other bowel diseases.
To learn more about colorectal cancer, contact the SEARHC Colorectal Health Program at 907-966-8541 or ask your local health care provider.