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Colorectal cancer treatable if found in time
Health advice
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March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, which means it’s time for me to remind everyone of the importance of screening for this disease. And it’s time for you to schedule tests. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cause of cancer deaths among men and women in the United States and in Georgia, but it looks like it may soon move to second place.
The American Cancer Society says colorectal cancer claims more lives than either breast or prostate cancer. Each year, there are about 150,000 new cases of colorectal cancer and 50,000 people lose their lives to the disease. More than 4,200 Georgians are expected to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year. Colorectal cancer claims the lives of more than 1,500 Georgians every year. Men, particularly black men, have the highest mortality rate for colorectal cancer.
Most people know the colon and rectum are part of the large intestine, which is part of the digestive system. Colorectal cancer is cancer that develops in the colon or the rectum. A group of organs, the digestive system allows us to eat food and to use the food to fuel our bodies.
About 75 percent of new colorectal cancer cases occur in patients with no known risk factors, making routine screenings important. When symptoms occur, a person is usually in more advanced stages of the disease. Symptoms may include:
• Rectal bleeding
• Blood in or on the stool (bright red)
• Change in bowel habits
• Stools that are narrower than usual
• General stomach discomfort (bloating, fullness and/or cramps)
• Diarrhea, constipation or feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
• Frequent gas pains
• Weight loss for no apparent reason
• Constant tiredness
• Vomiting
When these symptoms occur for more than two weeks, you should see your health-care professional immediately. These symptoms may be caused by other conditions, but the only way to know for sure is to be tested.
The exact causes of colorectal cancer remain unknown. But studies indicate certain factors are associated with an increased risk for the disease. They are:
• Age is the primary risk factor for colorectal cancer. Everyone age 50 and older is at risk for developing colorectal cancer — 90 percent of cases occur after age 50. African-Americans should get screened beginning at age 45.
• Personal or family history of colorectal cancer and/or polyps or inflammatory bowel disease
• Tobacco use
• Alcohol consumption
• Physical inactivity
• Obesity
• Poor diet

Reduce your risk:

• Get regular screening tests
• Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight
• Eat healthy
• Limit alcohol
• Stop using tobacco
To find out more about colorectal cancer and a Liberty County prevention program, call 876-2173.

Ratcliffe is a consultant to the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-6399.
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