Healthcare Tips

March Is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month: What You Need to Know

February 24, 2021

Getting a cancer diagnosis can be incredibly scary and overwhelming. This is especially true when it comes to something as difficult to recover from as colorectal cancer (CRC). Successful treatment of this disease lies in early detection, which is why it is important to bring awareness to screening methods and symptoms as well as risk factors. 

What it is

Colorectal cancer is the third most-diagnosed form of cancer. It is called a few different names, including colon cancer, bowel cancer and rectal cancer, but all refer to a cancer originating in the colon or rectum. Cancer refers to abnormal cells growing in an area of the body and crowding out normal cells, leading to disfunction. In cases where CRC has progressed, metastasis can be found in the bladder, uterus, prostate and other surrounding organs and tissues. Symptoms to watch for include bleeding or blood in the stool, pain, abdominal cramping, fatigue and unexplained weight loss.

Who’s at risk

This particular form of cancer affects men 30% more often than women. Almost all cases are diagnosed in people age 50 and older, with roughly 12% diagnosed in younger individuals (American Cancer Society). Other risk factors include inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, family history, and genetics. Certain lifestyle factors make one more at risk of developing CRC, including a lack of physical activity, a diet low in fruits and vegetables, increased consumption of processed meats, obesity, alcohol consumption, and tobacco use.

A personal touch

We spoke with Dave Hahn, director of construction at Hancock Regional Hospital. In 2000, Dave received a CRC diagnosis. He knew he needed both a surgeon and a place for treatment. It didn’t take him long to decide on Hancock Regional Hospital for both. Even though it’s a smaller hospital, Dave knew from his experience of working with the doctors and nurses every day that he was making the right choice. 

“I didn’t want to feel like a number,” he says. “When you have cancer, you’re scared; you don’t know what’s around the corner. But when you feel like you’re with family, it makes it a lot easier.”

Dave was pleased with the personal touch of Hancock Regional and even made friends with other CRC patients. He is still in remission 20 years later and attributes his good-outcome experience to the skill of the doctors and staff as well as their “truly caring attitude.”

Prevention and treatment

Dave was lucky, but numbers are steadily improving for this type of cancer. The five-year survival rate for this type of cancer tends to be around 80%. However, this lies in early detection and the overall health of the individual. Colonoscopies are routinely prescribed for those aged 50 and older as a method to detect polyps or other abnormalities within the colon or rectum. Polyps, although many times not cancerous, can become cancerous over time, which is why it’s important to take this screening seriously. Other ways to protect yourself from developing risk factors include getting a moderate amount of physical activity regularly and maintaining a healthy diet with plenty of fiber, fruits and vegetables. 

Even if you aren’t yet 50 but have risk factors, you should talk to your doctor about getting regular colonoscopies starting now. This early detection tool can save lives, especially when it comes to a disease in which symptoms may not appear until later stages of progression. 

Hancock Health System is dedicated to ensuring our patients’ health and well-being. If you have questions or are concerned about your risk for colorectal cancer, contact a physician through our Physician Network today!