March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and a good time for persons over the age of 50 to make an appointment with their doctor to have a colon check-up.
According to the Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation's website, www.preventcancer.org, "Colorectal cancer -- cancer of the colon or rectum -- is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States for both men and women combined."
This organization also reported that in 2006, an estimated 148,000 people will be diagnosed with this colon disease. The good news is that it is one of the most preventable cancers. Screenings should be conducted at least every five years. Those who have a higher risk of this disease should start being screened at the age of 40.
A constituent was telling me about his mother who passed away two years ago from colon cancer. In 2003, the mother went to the emergency room of her local hospital with a bloated stomach. They discovered she was completely blocked by a cancerous growth in her lower intestine. She had never had her colon checked and she died at the age of 65, nine months after diagnosis. The mother's doctor told the family that if she had had regular screenings, he would have found the cancer earlier and would have been able to prevent this tragedy. The constituent said his physician strongly suggested he and his siblings get checked at the age of 40. He reported that his sister had a colon check-up done recently and they did find a polyp. Luckily, it was benign and removed.
According to the Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation, "Most cases of the disease begin as non-cancerous polyps ... on the lining of the colon and rectum. These polyps can become cancerous. Removing these polyps can prevent colorectal cancers from ever developing."
The National Cancer Institute reports that risk factors for colorectal cancer include age, family history, a history of polyps, a diet high in fat and low in calcium and fiber, and cigarette smoking. Having routine screenings performed, eating healthy and exercising regularly can help reduce the risk.
The National Cancer Institute, which is part of the federal government's National Institutes of Health, has information specialists who can answer questions and send materials on colorectal cancer. Call (800) 4-CANCER for more information.