Mini Crash Course: Colorectal Cancer

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March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. If you're African American, you have higher odds of being diagnosed and dying from the disease than other population groups. It's the third most common cancer among Blacks and the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States for men and women of all races combined.

As with many other deadly diseases, African Americans are less likely than Caucasians to have early screenings that could save lives. Colorectal cancer is highly curable when detected early. The American Cancer Society suggests annual screenings begin at age 50. Earlier screening is advised if there is a family history of colorectal cancer, colorectal polyps or inflammatory bowel disease. The need for earlier screening is a decision that should be discussed and evaluated with your health care team.

Leading risk factors for colorectal cancer include a personal or family history of any of the conditions named above, along with tobacco use, excessive alcohol intake, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. While the disease often develops with no symptoms (that's why screening is so crucial), some symptoms can occur, especially in advanced stages. Be concerned if you have:

  • Rectal bleeding
  • Bright red blood in the stool
  • Change in bowel habits
  • Stools that are narrower than usual
  • General stomach discomfort like bloating, fullness and/or cramps
  • Diarrhea, constipation, or a feeling that the bowel doesn't empty completely
  • Frequent gas pains
  • Weight loss for no apparent reason
  • Constant tiredness
  • Vomiting

If you have any of these symptoms for more than two weeks, see your health care team immediately.

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