This March, for Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) State Health Officer Joan Duwve, M.D., encourages men and women to learn the symptoms and risk factors of colorectal cancer and to make an appointment for a colonoscopy.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many elective procedures being put on hold, and this has led to a substantial decline in cancer screening, including screening for colon cancer,” said Dr. Duwve. “Health care facilities are open for business and providing routine cancer screening, and I want to encourage Kansans to ask their health care providers about getting screened for colon cancer and to learn about the symptoms of colorectal cancer and what they could be doing to live longer lives.”
Colorectal cancer develops from precancerous polyps in the colon (large intestine) or rectum. The exact cause of most colorectal cancers is not yet known. In Kansas, colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death among males and females. Each year, 1,300 Kansans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and more than half of them are diagnosed in late-stage. In addition, more than 500 Kansans die from the disease annually.
There are certain risk factors linked to colorectal cancer:
Older Age: Colorectal cancer can be diagnosed at any age, but many people with colorectal cancer are older than 50. The rates of colorectal cancer in people younger than 50 have been increasing, but doctors are not sure why.
Inflammatory intestinal conditions: Chronic inflammatory diseases of the colon, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, can increase your risk of cancer.
Family history of colorectal cancer: You are more likely to develop colorectal cancer if you have a blood relative who has had the disease. If more than one family member has colorectal cancer, your risk is even greater.
Although early colorectal cancer often causes no symptoms, advanced colorectal cancer symptoms may include:
- A persistent change in your bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation, or a change in the consistency of your stool
- Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
- Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain
- A feeling that your bowel does not empty completely
- Weakness or fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
Reduce your risk for colorectal cancer:
Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants, which may play a role in cancer prevention. Beginning in June, if you are over the age of 60, meet income guidelines and need help getting fresh fruits and vegetables, the Kansas Senior Farmers Market Program can help. Details are available at kdhe.ks.gov/1053/.
Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all. If you choose to drink alcohol, limit the amount of alcohol you drink to no more than one drink a day for women and two for men.
Stop smoking. Quitting tobacco is a process. Whether you are thinking about quitting, are not yet ready to quit, or have already quit, the Kansas Tobacco Quitline can help you with each step of the way. The Quitline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week 800-784-8669. Visit kansas.quitlogix.org to learn more.
Exercise most days of the week. Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days. If you have been inactive, start slowly and build up gradually to 30 minutes. Talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program.
Maintain a healthy weight. If you are at a healthy weight, work to maintain your weight by combining a healthy diet with daily exercise. If you need to lose weight, ask your doctor about healthy ways to achieve your goal. Aim to lose weight slowly by increasing the amount of exercise you get and reducing the number of calories you eat.
Men and women at average risk of colorectal cancer should talk with their doctor or health care professional about colorectal cancer screening starting at age 45. Kansans who have several family members diagnosed with prostate cancer at an early age should begin talks at age 40.
This March, recognize National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month by learning about the disease, talking with your doctor and making changes to your lifestyle, including making a regular appointment to get screened.