March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and a good time to learn more about colorectal cancer and how it can be prevented or best treated.
Cancer of the colon and rectum is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States for both men and women combined. This year, approximately 140,000 new cases of colorectal cancer will be diagnosed and 56,000 people will die from the disease.
"Colorectal cancer is a disease that can be prevented through regular screenings, a healthy diet and regular exercise," explains Scott Bierman, MD, surgeon at the Gundersen Lutheran-Decorah and West Union Clinics. "Since there are very few symptoms associated with colorectal cancer, regular screening is essential."
Screening is beneficial for two main reasons: colorectal cancer is extremely preventable if polyps that lead to the cancer are detected and removed, and it is very curable if the cancer is detected in its early stages. "If detected, colorectal cancer requires surgery in nearly all cases for complete cure, sometimes in conjunction with radiation and chemotherapy," says Philip Yee, MD, surgeon at the Gundersen Lutheran-Decorah and Waukon Clinics. "Between 80-90 percent of patients are cancer-free after five years if the cancer is detected and treated in the earliest stages. However, the cure rate drops to 50 percent or less when diagnosed in the later stages."
The risk of developing colorectal cancer increases with age. All men and women 50 years of age and older are at risk and should be screened. Some people are at a higher risk and should be screened at an age younger than 50, including those with a personal or family history of inflammatory bowel disease; colorectal cancer or polyps; or ovarian, endometrial or breast cancer.
To lower your risk of colorectal cancer, Drs. Bierman and Yee suggest:
--Get regular colorectal cancer screenings beginning at age 50.
--Eat a low-fat, high-fiber diet.
--If you use alcohol, drink only in moderation. If you use tobacco, quit. If you don't use tobacco, don't start. Alcohol and tobacco in combination are linked to colorectal cancer and other gastrointestinal cancers.
--Exercise for at least 20 minutes three to four days each week. Moderate exercise such as walking, gardening or climbing steps may help.