Your Guide to Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

April 17, 2024


March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and this effort at raising awareness about the disease has been around since 2000. We are pleased that in recent years, the death rate from colorectal cancer has been dropping in both men and women! 

There are likely a number of factors contributing to the decline, and at Alabama Colon & Rectal Institute, we will continue being a part of the mission to raise awareness by sharing important information about colorectal cancer. 

Here’s everything you need to know.

Colorectal Cancer: What Is It & How Common?

Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. The American Cancer Society’s estimates for the number of colorectal cancer cases in the United States for 2022 are:

  • 106,180 new cases of colon cancer
  • 44,850 new cases of rectal cancer

In the United States, colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and in women, and the second most common cause of cancer deaths when men and women are combined. It's expected to cause about 52,580 deaths during 2022.

Colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon or rectum) is very treatable when it is discovered early. Even if it spreads into nearby lymph nodes, surgical treatment followed by chemotherapy is very effective.

It affects men and women of all racial and ethnic groups, and is most often found in people 50 years or older. However, incidence in those younger than 50 is on the rise, which is why it’s now recommended that everyone have their first colonoscopy by age 45.

As mentioned above, the death rate from colorectal cancer has been dropping for several years. This is partly due to the fact that we are able to find colorectal polyps earlier and more often by screening, and we are able to remove them in many cases before they can develop into cancers. When cancers are found earlier, they are easier to treat. Treatments for colorectal cancer have also improved over the last few decades.

Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer

Every person who is around 45 years of age, or older, should have regular colonoscopies, regardless of having symptoms. If you have risk factors for colorectal cancer, you should start screenings even earlier. 

Remember that colorectal cancer often first develops with few, if any, symptoms. The most common symptom is no symptom. Here are symptoms that might be present that suggest a colorectal issue:

  • Change in bowel habits, such as intermittent or constant diarrhea and/or constipation, a change in the consistency of your stool, or more narrow stools than usual
  • Persistent abdominal discomfort that may present as cramps, gas, or pain; and/or feeling full, bloated, or a feeling like your bowel is not completely empty
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Rectal bleeding, including blood in your stool that is bright red; or stool that is black and tarry or brick red
  • Feeling weak or fatigued, which may be accompanied by anemia or a low red blood cell count
  • Unexplained weight loss; or weight loss due to nausea or vomiting

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should see a doctor who specializes in diseases of the colon and rectal as soon as possible. These symptoms can also be associated with many other health conditions, so proper diagnosis is crucial. 

Common Questions About Colorectal Cancer

Does blood in the stool always suggest cancer? The earliest sign of colorectal cancer may be bleeding. But if this happens, there’s no reason to panic. Several other conditions can cause blood in the stool. However, if this does occur, you should see your doctor right away so that we can make a correct diagnosis and come up with a proper treatment plan, if necessary.

Can changes in diet reduce the risk for colorectal cancer? We do believe that fiber is important to reduce colon cancer risk, although some studies have shown that a high-fiber diet doesn't make much difference. Diets that include a lot of fat and cholesterol are associated with an increased risk of colon cancer. Most of us agree that you should add fiber to your diet, because fiber-rich foods are an essential source of nutrients that can help prevent many other serious conditions, such as heart disease. 

What does having a family history of colorectal cancer mean? If you have a family member who has been diagnosed with colorectal cancer, you are at an increased risk. However, you should not automatically assume that you will develop the condition as well. If you do fall into this category, our best advice is to start working with us 10 years earlier (around age 35 rather than 45) than typically advised to start regular colonoscopies. Any symptoms related to the gastrointestinal tract should be evaluated promptly regardless of your age.

With no family history or gastrointestinal issues, are colonoscopies really necessary? Yes! Early diagnosis and prevention are key. When diagnosed early, over 90% of colorectal cancer cases are curable. 

What happens after a colorectal cancer diagnosis? Colorectal cancer requires surgery in nearly all cases for complete cure. Patients often undergo radiation and chemotherapy in addition to surgery. 

Can colorectal cancer be prevented? In many cases. We believe that nearly all colorectal cancer begins in benign polyps that form on the inner lining of the bowel. These have the potential to grow and become cancerous. Removal of these polyps during a colonoscopy is an example of preventive medicine, and this is why regular colonoscopies starting at the appropriate age are so important.

Rumpshaker 5K

The Rumpshaker 5K is the largest free-standing 5K in Alabama, and it has hosted more than 25,000 participants since 2009. We are proud to be a sponsor of the race that has raised more than a million dollars over the past 12 years. The event is a fun, family-friendly experience that welcomes runners and walkers of all ages during Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

The race is a way to raise awareness of the disease in an unforgettable, actionable way. Whether it’s by running or walking in the race, observing from the sidelines to cheer on runners, or just reading about it and sharing with others, the Rumpshaker should be a reminder that there are steps we can all take to prevent colorectal cancer and save lives. 

Find all the details and sign up for the race on the Rumpshaker website.

  • When: March 26, 2022
  • Times: 5K Run/Walk starts @ 8am; 1 Mile Fun Run starts @ 9am
  • Where: Regions Field -- 1401 1st Ave South, Birmingham, AL 35233

Help Raise Awareness for Colorectal Cancer

The best way to prevent colorectal cancer is to stay active, eat a balanced diet, maintain your ideal body weight, and schedule colonoscopies regularly after age 45, or earlier if you have a family history.

As we have continued to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, colorectal cancer screenings have been put on hold. Many appointments were canceled and never rescheduled. Now is the time to refocus on colorectal health and make screenings a priority. Schedule your appointment today, and encourage others in your life to do the same!

Learn more about colon cancer at Alabama Colon & Rectal Institute.

Alabama Colon & Rectal Institute specializes in treating diseases of the colon, rectum, and anus. We are  experts in performing colonoscopies, anorectal surgery, and minimally invasive colon surgery. Our three doctors are known regionally for their expertise in these areas. Visit our website for more information, give us a call to make an appointment at 205-458-5000, or email us at [email protected].  

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