March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

Published 3:30 pm Tuesday, March 10, 2020

LEXINGTON – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that among cancers that affect both adult men and women, colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon or rectum) is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Every year, about 141,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and more than 52,000 people die from it.

Last year, the American Cancer Society (ACS) released an updated guideline for colorectal cancer screening. Their new recommendations say screening should begin at age 45 for people at average risk. Previously, the guideline recommended screening begin at age 50 for people at average risk. The ACS lowered the age to start screening after a major analysis led by ACS researchers. The numbers showed that new cases of colorectal cancer are occurring at an increasing rate among younger adults. After reviewing this data, experts on the ACS Guideline Development Committee concluded that a beginning screening age of 45 for adults of average risk will result in more lives saved from colorectal cancer.

Screening tests help prevent colorectal cancer by finding precancerous polyps (abnormal growths) which can be removed by a general surgeon. “If you’re 45 or older, it’s important to get screened for colorectal cancer,” said ARH Oncologist Mohamed Shanshal, MD. “When colorectal cancer is caught early, treatment can be most effective.”

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There are several screening test options. Talk with your healthcare provider to determine which is right for you.

• Colonoscopy: an exam used to detect changes or abnormalities in the large intestine (colon) and rectum. (every 10 years)

• High-sensitivity guaiac fecal occult blood test (FOBT) or fecal immunochemical test (FIT): Stool specimens are collected by patients in their home. (every year)

• Sigmoidoscopy: a diagnostic test to check the lower part of your colon or large intestine (the sigmoid colon). This part of your colon is close to your rectum and anus. (every 10 years, with FOBT or FIT every three years)

• Sigmoidoscopy alone (every 5 years).

• Stool DNA test (FIT-DNA): a noninvasive laboratory test that identifies DNA changes in the cells of a stool sample. The stool DNA test is a new method to screen for colon cancer. (every one or three years)

According to the CDC, research is underway to find out if changes to your diet can reduce your colorectal cancer risk. Medical experts often recommend a diet low in animal fats and high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains to reduce the risk of other chronic diseases such as coronary artery disease and diabetes. This diet also may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. Also, researchers are examining the role of certain medicines and supplements in preventing colorectal cancer.

“Though researchers are not sure what causes colorectal cancer, certain factors like smoking, excess weight and alcoholic drinks may affect your risk,” said Shanshal. “Also keep in mind if a parent, grandparent or other close relative has had colorectal cancer, your risk increases significantly.”

Some studies suggest that people may reduce their risk of developing colorectal cancer by increasing physical activity, limiting alcohol consumption and avoiding tobacco.

Overall, the most effective way to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer is by having regular colorectal cancer screening tests beginning at age 45. Talk to your healthcare provider about screening options and take charge of your health. To find an ARH physician, go to or call your local ARH hospital.