MetroWest Medical Center Raising Awareness about Colorectal Cancer Month

Mar 24, 2023

FRAMINGHAM, Mass. – March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and MetroWest Medical Center is raising awareness of this potentially life-threatening disease. The good news is that colorectal cancer is preventable, treatable, and beatable.

What is colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer is a disease characterized by the unchecked division of abnormal cells in the colon or rectum. The colon and rectum (colorectum), along with the anus, make up the large intestine, the final segment of the gastrointestinal (GI) system. Most colorectal cancers start as a growth, or polyp, on the inner lining of the colon or rectum.

The Stats

While an uncommon topic of conversation, it’s important to talk about and to get screened. Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer (after prostate, breast and lung) diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates the following statistics for colorectal cancer cases in the United States for 2020:

  • 104,610 new cases of colon cancer
  • 43,340 new cases of rectum cancer

Screenings are important

Many lifestyle-related factors have been linked to colorectal cancer. The links between diet, weight and exercise and colorectal cancer risk are some of the strongest for any type of cancer.

“Regular colorectal cancer screening is one of the best ways for preventing colorectal cancer. With regular screening, most polyps can be found and removed before they have the chance to turn up into cancer,” said Dr. Steven Fine, Chief of Gastroenterology for MetroWest Medical Center.

Men and women aged 45 or older, should start getting screened for colorectal cancer. There’s an increase in colorectal cancer cases that are impacting patients in their 20’s and 30’s. The reasoning for this increase may be related to dietary changes. For example, high fat diets from an early age alter bacteria in the intestines that may predispose to cancer. The same occurs with low fiber diets – meaning lacking fruit and grains – which may alter the healthy bacteria in the intestines.

There are currently no formal screening guidelines for colorectal cancer patients in their 20’s and 30’s, except in the instance of a strong family history, a known genetic mutation or history of intestinal polyposis. A genetic DNA test may be an alternative screening.

Listen to your body

Colorectal cancer might not cause symptoms right away. If it does, it may cause one or more of these symptoms:

  • Change in bowel habits that last more than a few days
  • Feeling that you need to have bowel movement that’s not relieved by having one
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool
  • Cramping or abdominal pain
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Unintended weight loss

“It’s important to know many of these symptoms can be caused by conditions other than colorectal cancer,” Dr. Fine explained. “Still, if you have any of these problems, it’s important to see your doctor right away. Early screening and detection of colorectal cancer is crucial.”

Take our free colorectal cancer quiz here.

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