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March - Colon Cancer Awareness Month

The American Cancer Society has announced that March is officially Colon Cancer Awareness Month.

Although colorectal cancer can often be prevented, it is one of the leading causes of cancer death in the United States.

Colon cancer can be prevented if it is caught early. When it is found at its earliest, most treatable stage, colon cancer has a 90 percent survival rate.

Screening now includes a choice, giving people an option of either a colonoscopy or a stool test.

Even with early detection, colorectal cancer is one of the five most common cancers in men and women in the United States. The American Cancer Society believes that preventing colorectal cancer (and not just finding it early) should be a major reason for getting screened.

Early detection is critical since colon cancer often produces no symptoms during early stages. The American Cancer Society recommends that everyone get screened for colon cancer beginning at age 50.

People should talk to their doctor about screening earlier if they have a history of colon cancer or have a personal history of chronic inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis.

Finding and removing polyps keeps some people from getting colorectal cancer. Screenings that have the best chance of finding both polyps and cancer are preferred if these screenings are available to you and you are willing to have them.

Screening Recommendations:

Beginning at age 50, both men and women at average risk for developing colorectal cancer should use one of the following screenings as recommended by the Nevada Colon Cancer Partnership:

Screening that can prevent colon cancer by removal of precancerous polyps:

• Colonoscopy every 10 years

Screening that can detect early stage treatable colon cancer:

• Fecal immunochemical test (FIT) every year

High Risk Recommendations:

People with an increased or high risk of getting colorectal cancer should begin colorectal cancer screening before age 50 and/or be screened more often. The following conditions place you at higher than average risk:

• A personal history of colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps

• A personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease)

• A strong family history of colorectal cancer or polyps

• A known family history of a hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome such as familiar adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC)

Grant funds are available to help pay for uninsured and underinsured people's screenings.

Five Myths about Colorectal Cancer

1. Colorectal cancer is a man's disease.

Truth: Colorectal cancer is just as common among women as men. Each year about 150,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and about 50,000 die from the disease.

2. Colorectal cancer cannot be prevented.

Truth: In most cases colorectal cancer can be prevented. Colorectal cancer almost always starts with a small growth called a polyp. If the polyp is found early, doctors can remove it during a colonoscopy and stop colorectal cancer before it starts.

3. African Americans are not at risk for colorectal cancer.

Truth: African-American men and women are diagnosed with or die from colorectal cancer at higher rates than men and women of any other U.S. racial or ethnic group. The reason for this is not yet understood.

4. Age doesn't matter when it comes to getting colorectal cancer.

Truth: More than 90 percent of colorectal cancer cases are in people age 50 and older. For this reason, the American Cancer Society recommends you start getting tested for the disease at age 50. People who are at a higher risk for colorectal cancer — such as those who have colon or rectal cancer in their families — may need to begin testing at a younger age. Talk to your doctor about when you should start getting tested.

5. It's better not to get tested for colorectal cancer because it's deadly anyway.

Truth: Colorectal cancer is often highly treatable. If it is found and treated early (while it is small and before it has spread), the five-year survival rate is about 90 percent. But because many people are not getting tested, only about four out of 10 are diagnosed at this early stage when treatment is most likely to be successful.

To lower your chances of getting colorectal cancer:

• Get to and stay at a healthy weight

• Be physically active

• Limit the amount of alcohol you drink

• Eat a diet with lots of fruit and vegetables, whole grains and less red or processed meat

Colon Cancer Awareness Month Activities:

• Make an appointment for your screening

• Be an advocate — tell loved ones that you care by encouraging them to get screened

• Visit our nvccp.org or www.cancer.org for additional information

To find out if you are at an increased risk for colon cancer, or for additional information, please read: Colorectal Cancer Early Detection at www.nvccp.org or www.cancer.org.

• Susan Robinson, is the community outreach liaison for the Nevada Cancer Institute. She can be reached at (775) 356-8800.