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National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

The month of March brings many important awareness campaigns to our attention and National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month is one that the Community Health Center, Inc. would love to help promote. Colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon or rectum. In Connecticut, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed among men and women and the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths. Health officials estimate that 60 percent of these deaths could be prevented with regular screening, yet 30 percent of state residents over 50 have never been screened; the importance of knowing about risk factors, prevention & early detection, and possible symptoms are more than necessary.

The colon, also called the large bowel or large intestine, and the rectum are part of the digestive tract. The digestive tract is the group of organs through which food and liquids pass when they are swallowed, digested and eliminated. The colon is where water and nutrients from food are absorbed. What is left over is called waste, which moves from the colon to the rectum where it passes through your body.

What is Colorectal Cancer? How can it develop?

  • Tumors of the colon and rectum are growths occurring from the inner wall of the large intestine.
  • Benign tumors (not cancerous) of the large intestine are called Hyperplastic polyps.
    • Do not invade nearby tissue or spread to other parts of the body.
    • Benign polyp
  • Pre Malignant tumors called Adenomatous polyps if not removed can grow into cancer over time.
  • Malignant tumors of the large intestine are called cancers.
  • Most of the cancers of the large intestine are believed to have developed from polyps.
  • Cancer of the colon and rectum (also referred to as colorectal cancer) can invade and damage adjacent tissues and organs.
  • Cancer cells can also break away and spread to other parts of the body (such as liver and lung) where new tumors form.
  • The spread of colon cancer to far-away organs is called metastasis of the colon cancer.

Risk Factors

What you eat and drink can affect how your digestive tract works, which can lead to colon/rectal problems. The following characteristics can increase a person’s risk for Colorectal Cancer.

  • People age 50 and older
  • People who smoke
  • People who are overweight or obese, especially those who carry fat around their waists
  • People who aren’t physically active
  • People who drink alcohol in excess, especially men
  • People with Type 2 Diabetes are at a increased risk, and also tend to have a higher death rate from this cancer
  • People who eat a lot of red meat (such as beef, pork or lamb) or processed meat (such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs or cold cuts)
  • People with personal or family histories of colorectal cancer or benign (not cancerous) colorectal polyps
  • People with personal histories of inflammatory bowel disease (such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease)
  • People with family histories of inherited colorectal cancer or inherited colorectal problems

Although a leading cause of fatalities among both men and women, if detected early, colorectal cancer can be successfully treated.

Colorectal Cancer Prevention

  • Be physically active for at least 30 minutes, at least five days a week.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Don’t smoke. If you do smoke, quit.
  • If you drink alcohol, have no more than one drink a day if you’re a woman or two drinks a day if you’re a man.
  • Eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains to help you get and stay healthy.
  • Eat less red meat and cut out processed meat.

Colorectal Cancer Early Detection

If you’re at average risk for colorectal cancer, start getting screened at age 50. If you’re at higher risk, you may need to start regular screening at an earlier age and be screened more often. If you’re older than 75, ask your doctor if you should continue to be screened. The best time to get screened is before you have any symptoms.

Use this information to help you talk about screening options with your health care professional. Consider one of these tests:

Tests that find pre-cancer and cancer:

  • Colonoscopy – Every 10 years
    • Test that allows your doctor to look at the inner lining of your large intestine (rectum & colon)
  • Virtual colonoscopy – Every 5 years
    • Procedure used to look for signs of pre-cancerous growths, called polyps; cancer; and other diseases of the large intestine.
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy – Every 5 years
    • Procedure used to see inside the sigmoid colon and rectum
      • The sigmoid colon is the last 1/3 of the colon.
  • Double-contrast barium enema – Every 5 years
    • Procedure in which x-rays of the colon and rectum are taken after a liquid containing barium is put into the rectum.
      • At low doses, barium acts as a muscle stimulant

Early stages of colorectal cancer don’t usually have symptoms. Later on, people may have these symptoms:

  • Bleeding from the rectum or blood in or on the stool
  • Change in bowel habits
  • Stools that are more narrow than usual, presenting with a ribbon-like appearance.
  • General problems in the abdomen, such as bloating, fullness or cramps
  • Diarrhea, constipation or a feeling in the rectum that the bowel movement isn’t quite complete
  • Weight loss for no apparent reason
  • Being tired all the time
  • Vomiting

The Early Detection Program at the Community Health Center, Inc.

Community Health Center’s Colorectal Cancer Early Detection Program provides free screenings and education to eligible men and women who are uninsured or underinsured and have low incomes. To find out if you’re eligible, contact CRC Patient Navigator and LPN Nicole Jarjura at 860-347-6971, ext. 3657 to schedule an appointment.