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March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

By Dr. Ericha Worple

One in 25 people in the U.S. will develop colon or rectal cancer at some point during their lifetime. Colon cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths. Fortunately, colon cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancers due to increased awareness, prevention, and routine colonoscopies.

A colonoscopy is a simple procedure that allows your doctor to look at the inner lining of your large intestine using a thick flexible tube, called an endoscope. An endoscope can be passed into the colon through the rectum. This procedure may be done to evaluate ulcers, digestive tract bleeding, stomach pain, changes in bowel habits, and polyps. During a colonoscopy, your doctor can evaluate, diagnose, and possibly remove polyps before they become a problem. Reasons to consider a colonoscopy:

• Unexplained weight loss.

• A feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely.

• Persistent abdominal discomfort (gas, cramps, or pain).

• Weakness or fatigue.

• Rectal bleeding or blood in stool.

• A change in your bowel habits that lasts for more than two weeks (diarrhea, constipation, or change in consistency of stool).

A routine colonoscopy is recommended by the American Cancer Society for men and women, age 45 or with normal risk factors to detect early colon cancer. Your primary care provider may recommend a colonoscopy before age 45. Making yourself aware of your personal risk factors can help determine when you should begin routine or more frequent colonoscopy screenings.

Risk factors include:

• A personal or family history of inflammatory bowel disease

• A personal or family history of colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps

• A known family history of hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome

Here are six ways to help protect your colorectal health:

1. Get screened for colorectal cancer. These tests can find colon or rectal cancer earlier, when treatments are more likely to be successful. Some colorectal screening tests can also find and remove precancerous growths (polyps) in the colon or rectum. Polyps are not cancer, but over time cancer can start in the polyps. Removing them lowers the risk of cancer. Talk to your health care provider about when you should start screening and which tests might be right for you.

2. Eat lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Diets that include lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains have been linked with a decreased risk of colon or rectal cancer.

Also, eat less red meat (beef, pork, or lamb) and processed meats (hot dogs and some luncheon meats), which have been linked with an increased risk of colorectal cancer.

3. Get regular exercise. If you are not physically active, you may have a greater chance of developing colorectal cancer. Being more active may help reduce your risk.

4. Take control of your weight. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of getting and dying from colon or rectal cancer. Eating healthier and increasing your physical activity can help you control your weight.

5. Don’t smoke. Long-term smokers are more likely than non-smokers to develop and die from colon or rectal cancer.

6. Avoid alcohol. Alcohol use has been linked with a higher risk of colorectal cancer. It is best to not drink alcohol. But if you do, the American Cancer Society recommends no more than 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women. A single drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1¢ ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits (hard liquor).

If you are 45 years or older, or have an increased risk of colon cancer, talk with your primary care provider (PCP) about your risk. At UnityPoint Clinic Surgery, we are here to support your colorectal health. We offer many treatment options including colonoscopies and other surgical options. We will work to give you the best patient centered care.

Dr. Ericha Worple is a general surgeon at UnityPoint Clinic — Fort Dodge

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