March is national Colon Cancer Awareness Month and Cuyuna Regional Medical Center is trying to raise awareness of this potentially life-threatening disease. Next week, the medical campus will be lit blue, the color representing colon cancer, and employees will wear blue to work on Monday, March 5.
"Colorectal cancer is the fourth most commonly occurring cancer in the USA and nearly five percent of Americans will develop colorectal cancer in their lifetime,” said colorectal cancer expert Shawn Roberts, M.D., a surgeon at Cuyuna Regional Medical Center. “Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, with over 56,000 people expected to die from this disease each year. However, it is a preventable and very curable disease if caught early."
Because there are often no symptoms when it is first developing, colorectal cancer can only be caught early through regular screening. "The benefits of early detection and treatment are dramatic," Dr. Roberts says. "The possibility of curing patients after symptoms develop can be quite low, but if colorectal cancer is found and treated at an early stage, the opportunity to cure is almost 100 percent. Most colon cancers start as non-cancerous growths called polyps. If we can find these polyps while they are still non-cancerous, we remove them and the cancer may be prevented. Major surgery can usually be avoided, as well," Dr. Roberts adds.
Dr. Roberts says people at average risk of getting colorectal cancer should get a digital rectal examination and fecal occult blood test, which screens for hidden blood in the stool, annually beginning at age 50. A colonoscopy (a test that allows the physician to look directly at the lining of the entire colon and rectum) is recommended starting at the age of 50 years every 10 years. People at increased risk for colorectal cancer include those with a personal or family history of colorectal polyps or cancer, those with a personal history of other cancers, and those with chronic ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease. Increased risk patients may need earlier and more frequent screening depending upon the recommendation of their healthcare provider.
Dr. Roberts notes that in addition to timely and regular screening for colorectal cancer, people may be able to lower their risk of getting the disease by avoiding foods that are high in fat; eating plenty of vegetables, fruits and other high-fiber foods; exercising regularly and maintaining a normal body weight; not smoking and drinking alcohol only in moderation.
For more information on colorectal cancer screening, prevention and treatment, visit cuyunamed.org or call 218-546-7000.