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5 Facts to Know About Colorectal Health

Since 2000, March has been dedicated to an important—yet rarely talked about—topic. It’s Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and thousands of colorectal cancer survivors and advocates gather to spread the word about this potentially deadly disease.

But how much do you or your aging loved one really know about colorectal health? Let’s take a look at some facts you should know, including what symptoms you might experience if something isn’t right.

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Colorectal Health Fact #1: Colorectal Cancer Is Common

Just under 140,000 new cases of colorectal cancer are diagnosed each year, with about 60,000 people dying from the disease each year.

That number means that more deaths are caused by colorectal cancer than both breast and prostate cancers, and the condition strikes men and women in almost equal numbers.

Who’s at risk? Colorectal cancer can affect anyone.

But certain groups are at a higher risk, including those who have a family history of the disease, a personal history of having polyps in the colon, a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, or certain inherited syndromes. African-Americans are also at a higher risk.

Colorectal Health Fact #2: Colorectal Cancer Is a “Silent” Disease

Persistent symptoms can be a sign of this disease, although very often people don’t experience symptoms of colorectal cancer at all, particularly in early stages.

Colorectal cancer is what’s known as  a “silent disease.” This means that many of its symptoms aren’t exhibited until the disease advances into a later stage, where it’s more difficult to treat.

Colorectal Health Fact #3: Colorectal Cancer Has Warning Signs

In many cases, colorectal cancer symptoms are also symptoms of other, less serious diseases. That’s why it’s important that if you experience these symptoms, you talk with your doctor to determine the underlying cause.

You don’t want to assume the cause is something less serious, only to later discover that cancer is present.

According to the American Cancer Society, symptoms may include:

  • rectal bleeding
  • changes in bowel habits
  • bloating
  • cramps
  • vomiting
  • gastrointestinal pain
  • unexplainable weight loss
  • fatigue

If any of these symptoms of colorectal cancer persist for longer than two weeks, talk with a doctor.

Colorectal Health Fact #4: Colorectal Cancer Is Largely Preventable

While many colorectal cancer risk factors can’t be changed, some can. You can take steps to improve your lifestyle habits and lower your risk.

To improve your colorectal health and lower your risk of developing cancer:

  • Get regular exercise. Experts recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. This averages out to just more than 20 minutes a day.
  • Eat a balanced diet. Fill your plate with plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins (like chicken or fish), whole grains, and a small amount of healthy fat, like what’s found in olive oil or nuts. Senior LIFE offers nutritional counseling that can help guide food choices and diet for members.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking is the single largest preventable cause of death among Americans and a risk factor for colorectal cancer. Talk with a doctor about what cessation strategy might work best for you or your loved one.
  • Limit alcohol consumption. Aim for no more than two alcoholic beverages per day for men and one drink per day for women.
  • Get regular checkups and screenings. Age-appropriate screenings, like colonoscopies, play a key role in the prevention and detection of colorectal cancer.

Colorectal Health Fact 5: Early Detection of Colorectal Cancer Is Key

Now is the time to take action, because colorectal cancer can be prevented!

Colorectal cancer develops from benign polyps, which are mushroom-like growths on the lining of the colon and rectum. Removing these polyps before they become cancerous may prevent the cancer from developing. This can be done during a routine colonoscopy.

Even if cancer develops, it’s typically slow-growing. When discovered in the early stages, colorectal cancer can be cured in up to 90 percent of cases. Early detection and recognizing the signs of colorectal cancer are key to ensuring colorectal health.

“When it comes to colorectal cancer, early detection is important,” says Dr. Brent Nickischer, Medical Director at Senior LIFE. “Talk with your doctor about whether you need screening, what kind of screening you need, and how often you should be screened. That’s one of the best ways to protect your colorectal health.”

Senior LIFE members receive all medical and personal care services through the program, including age-appropriate screenings. Want to learn more about Senior LIFE, including whether you can switch to the program from your current managed care plan? Find the closest location and schedule a free consultation!

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