Colorectal cancer — cancer of the colon or rectum — is one of the most common types of cancer in the United States.

The American Cancer Society has estimated that there will be roughly 148,000 new cases diagnosed this year. Colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths and is expected to cause about 53,200 deaths in 2020. Some people believe that colorectal cancer is a men’s disease, but women are just as much at risk.

Despite these horrific statistics, the numbers for colorectal cancer for older Americans have improved since the mid-1980s. This is due to more people getting screened and lifestyle changes.

There are several lifestyle risk factors that increase your chance of developing colorectal cancer. These include:

— Being overweight or obese.

— Not being physically active.

— Having a diet high in red meats and processed meats.

— Smoking.

— Moderate to heavy alcohol use.

If a person has not experienced intestinal problems, the usual recommendation is that colorectal cancer screening begin at age 50 and be repeated every 10 years. Quite often, this screening will be a colonoscopy — a test where the doctor uses a longer, thin, flexible, lighted tube to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and the entire colon. 

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many elective medical procedures — including cancer screenings —were postponed to relieve demands on the overworked health system and to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus. Now, as COVID-19 is spiking again, many people are hesitant to have elective procedures done and some hospitals are having to limit the number of procedures scheduled. 

However, it is critical to have colorectal cancer screening. This cancer can do untold harm before symptoms are noticeable. Colorectal cancer screening can detect problems while they’re still treatable.

There are at-home options for colorectal cancer screening. Stool tests can be done safely at home. If the stool test result is positive, you will need a colonoscopy, and it will be important to talk with your doctor about the safest way to proceed. 

If you experience any of the following, you should contact your physician right away:

— Blood in your bowel movement.

— Stomach pain, aches or cramps that don’t go away.

— Chronic constipation or diarrhea.

— Chronic fatigue.

— A change in bowel habits.

— Unexplained weight loss.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 90% of new cases of colorectal cancer occur in people who are 50 or older, and millions of people are not getting screened. If you think you may be at increased risk for colorectal cancer, learn your family health history and ask your doctor if you should begin screening before age 50. 

If you are over 50 and haven’t had a colorectal cancer screening or if you are due for another, call your doctor to determine your options to get this critical screening. 

Tracy Arabian is the communications officer at SeniorCare Inc., a local agency on aging that serves Gloucester, Beverly, Essex, Hamilton, Ipswich, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Rockport, Topsfield and Wenham.





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