Laura Pride, Health & Wellness

Happy March! Are you ready for spring yet? I can hardly wait to get my hands and feet in the dirt and start preparing my garden. As you get ready for all of the activities warmer weather has to offer, I propose a suggestion for an important health screening: a screening for colorectal cancer.

March is colorectal cancer awareness month. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States and the second leading cause of death from cancers that affect both men and women. Colorectal cancer affects all racial and ethnic groups and is most common in people ages 50 and older.

Colorectal cancer is a cancer that starts in the colon or rectum. These cancers can also be called colon cancer and rectal cancer depending on where they start in the body. These cancers are often grouped together because they have many features in common. Most colorectal cancers begin as a growth in the inner lining of the colon or rectum. These growths are called polyps.

Some types of polyps can change into cancer over time, and not all polyps become cancer. There are several factors that influence whether a polyp may change into cancer over time. These factors include the type of polyp (ask your doctor for an explanation), size of the polyp, and condition of the lining of your colon or rectum after a polyp has been removed. If cancer forms in a polyp, it can grow into the wall of the colon or rectum over time. The wall of the colon and rectum is made up of many layers. Once cancer is in the wall, it may grow into the blood vessels or lymph vessels and from there, travel to nearby lymph nodes or distant parts of the body.

The best way to prevent colorectal cancer is to get screened regularly starting at age 50. There are often no signs or symptoms of colorectal cancer, and that’s why it’s so important to get screened. People over age 50 have the highest risk of colorectal cancer. You may also be at higher risk if you smoke, eat a poor diet, are not physically active, drink excess alcohol, are African American or have a family history of colorectal cancer.

Can colorectal cancer be prevented? There’s not one sure way to prevent colorectal cancer, but there are things you can do that might help lower your risk, such as changing the risk factors that you can control. Examples include maintaining a healthy weight, increasing the intensity of your workouts, limiting processed red meats, eating more vegetables and fruits, quitting smoking and limiting alcohol.

Everyone can take these healthy steps to help prevent colorectal cancer:

Get screened starting at age 50.

Encourage your family members and friends over age 50 to get screened.

Quit smoking and stay away from secondhand smoke.

Get plenty of physical activity and eat healthy. (Psst! You can cover both of these when you stop by one of Monroe County’s four senior centers for exercise class followed by a great lunch.)

Several types of tests can be used. Talk to your health care provider about which ones might be good options for you. No matter which test you choose, the most important thing is to get tested. Be well.