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March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

Colorectal Cancer is one of the most preventable cancers, so how come in the US alone 153,000 people are estimated to have been diagnosed last year?  Sounds like we need to catch up with the latest in symptoms, screening and diagnostic tests. 

Go blue for colorectal cancer

Three things signal spring in North America, certain Groundhog keepers have a new warm hat, you might spot the odd clump of snowdrops and #dressinblue is trending on social media. 

So what’s up with people walking around all in blue this March 1st? 

Since 2009, every first Friday in March colorectal cancer campaigners, advocates and survivors  all over the world don their blues to remember friends, family and colleagues dealing with CRC.

In the US, colorectal cancer (CRC) is the second leading cause of cancer death, but 90%1 of patients with CRC survive if diagnosed early. Raising awareness saves lives, so let’s get our blue on and find out more about Colorectal Cancer.

What do I need to know?

Colorectal cancer rates in adults under 50 are rising each year by one or two per cent.2

Race and ethnicity can affect your chances of survival- In the US Black Americans are 15% more likely to be diagnosed than white non-hispanics and 35% more likely to die.2

The US’ National Cancer Institute recently reported that in under 50s, the most common warning signs for colorectal cancer are2:

  • Iron deficiency/anemia
  • Rectal bleeding 
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea

What are symptoms I should look out for?

In the early stages, colorectal cancer often has no symptoms. That’s why screening is so important. If you haven’t made it to your colonoscopy yet but you have a feeling that something’s not right, here are some signs you should have a chat with your doctor:

  • constipation, diarrhea or any bowel changes lasting longer than a few days
  • blood, pus, mucus in your poop
  • rectal bleeding
  • your stool has changed shape (become narrower, for example)
  • intestinal obstruction
  • unintentional weight loss
  • ongoing abdominal discomfort
  • Feeling generally unwell and tired (weakness, anemia)3

What can you do this March?

Get Tested

Over the last few years it’s become clear that colorectal cancers can be detected earlier, and while overall rates of colorectal cancer are coming down, cases are increasing in the young. At this rate by 2030 Colorectal cancer will be the leading cause of cancer deaths in the USA between ages 20 and 492. In fact it’s estimated that 1/24 people will be diagnosed with CRC at some point in their life. One of the best ways to protect yourself is to take part in screening programs.

In Canada, the recommended age for screening varies slightly depending on the province and individual risk factors. It usually begins at age 50 for individuals with average risk. The very first screening is the fecal immunochemical test (FIT). In case of abnormalities, colonoscopy is recommended.4

In some health systems for example in the USA,  colonoscopy is the go to for screening.  It might not sound like a fun way to spend a sunny afternoon, but it can save your life. The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommended to the US congress that colorectal cancer screening should start at age 45. 5

Wondering if you really need to make that appointment? The Colorectal Cancer Alliance has a handy quiz to help you decide!

Get a megaphone

Let’s face it, talking about your toilet troubles and the idea of having a doctor look up there is not an attractive prospect. We get it, it’s embarrassing but one way to make it less embarrassing is to make it routine. Luckily the colorectal cancer alliance has a fantastic awareness campaign with a ton of resources to help you make an impact. You can:

  • Dress in blue!
  • Make a donation to a Colorectal Cancer Charity to help them with their campaign

https://interland3.donorperfect.net/weblink/weblink.aspx?name=colorcac&id=16

https://ccc.akaraisin.com/ui/pushforyourtush2024

https://www.bowelcanceruk.org.uk/support-us/ways-to-donate/

https://www.bowelcanceraustralia.org/online-donation

  • Grab some CRC Swag to get people used to seeing “colorectal cancer” without blushing .
  • Pass out info to your friends and colleagues with these fab fact sheets

https://www.colorectalcancercanada.com/

https://www.bowelcanceruk.org.uk/about-bowel-cancer/

https://www.bowelcanceraustralia.org/facts

  • Join in with one of the events taking place in March. Take your pick from fun days out to serious seminars!

Colorectal Cancer is Preventable

If your healthcare system offers it, get a FIT or colonoscopy. Regular screening helps the docs to spot the early stages of colorectal cancer. Screening is a regular check up for everyone with risk factors for a preventable disease that’s hard to spot.  For colorectal cancer, these are, age over 45-50 years, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, eating large amounts of red meat, excess weight, chronic gastrointestinal diseases and family history.3

 References

  1. Colorectal Cancer Survival Rates | Colorectal Cancer Prognosis. Accessed March 1, 2024. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/types/colon-rectal-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/survival-rates.htm ↩︎
  2. Facts and Statistics | Colorectal Cancer Alliance. Published February 8, 2024. Accessed March 1, 2024. https://colorectalcancer.org/basics/facts-and-statistics ↩︎
  3. colorectalcc. Colorectal Cancer Symptoms & Signs to Watch For | CCC. Colorectal Cancer Canada. Accessed March 1, 2024. https://www.colorectalcancercanada.com/colorectal-cancer/signs-symptoms/ ↩︎
  4. cancer CCS/ S canadienne du. Get screened for colorectal cancer. Canadian Cancer Society. Accessed March 1, 2024. https://cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/find-cancer-early/get-screened-for-colorectal-cance ↩︎
  5. Colorectal Cancer Alliance. Published February 27, 2024. Accessed March 1, 2024. https://colorectalcancer.org ↩︎

Olga Ciciu BSc
Olga Ciciu BSc
Olga Ciciu is a medical columnist for the Medical News Bulletin. She graduated from the University of Montreal with a bachelor's degree in Biopharmaceutical Sciences. She has expertise in the pharmaceutical industry and clinical epidemiology, which she further developed through her work as a Research Assistant and Drug Research and Development Consultant.
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