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Disease Prevention Article:

March is Colorectal Cancer Prevention Month

by Jaymey A. Butler, American Cancer Society
and Cheza Collier, Public Health - Seattle & King County

Although colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in Washington state and in the nation, it can be prevented through good nutrition, physical activity and regular screening.

Nearly 150,000 new cases of colorectal cancer (CRC) will be diagnosed this year, according to American Cancer Society estimates. CRC affects both men and women, as well as people of all races. African Americans, however, are more likely to die from CRC than other groups.

During March - Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month - the Healthy Aging Partnership reminds older adults across Washington to talk to their doctors about screening and diagnostic tests and to follow American Cancer Society guidelines for prevention and early detection.

Even though we don't know exactly what causes colorectal cancer, there are some steps you can take to reduce your risk.

To help prevent colorectal cancer, follow these recommendations:

  • Engage in physical activity five or more days a week, at least 30 minutes a day, at least 10 minutes at a time. Even small amounts of exercise on a regular basis can be helpful.
  • Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods and avoid high-fat, high-sugar and low-fiber foods.
  • Supplement your healthy diet by taking a daily multi-vitamin that includes calcium and folate or folic acid.
  • Avoid alcohol, or drink alcohol in moderate amounts.
  • Ask your medical provider about taking aspirin as a preventive measure.
  • Engage in screening after age 50, or at an earlier age if you have an increased risk of CRC. Greater risk exists for colorectal cancer among individuals who have a family history of the disease, have a personal history of polyps or have had CRC or other inflammatory bowel disease previously.

Recommended screening includes a fecal occult blood test (FOBT) once a year, flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years or colonoscopy every 10 years. Medicare typically covers the costs of such screening exams.

FOBT is a test of your stool to look for hidden signs of bleeding. This test, if positive, will lead to a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy, which will test for signs of disease or a pre-disease state. These signs include polyps, which are small growths that are not cancer initially but can become cancerous over time. There may also be lesions or other abnormalities of the colon.

While screening can help prevent death from CRC, less than 50 percent of the at-risk population currently undergoes these check-ups.

The good news is that colorectal cancer takes a long time to develop, about 10 years. Even if you have polyps, they can be removed long before cancer occurs if they are detected early. The incidence of CRC increases with age, so it is better to act early.

The American Cancer Society can provide more information and resources about the early detection of colorectal cancer by calling 1-800-227-2345 or visiting the Web site at www.cancer.org.

Remember that colorectal cancer can be prevented, and if detected early, it can be cured.

For answers to all your questions about living a healthier life as an older adult, call the Healthy Aging Partnership's toll-free information and assistance line at 1-844-348-KING (1-844-348-5464) or visit the Web site at www.4elders.org. HAP is generously supported by HAP partner agencies, Puget Sound Energy and the Comprehensive Health Education Foundation.