Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month
In March of each year, Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month is observed globally to increase awareness about colorectal cancer. Building awareness plays an important role in early detection and reducing mortality rates.
Colorectal cancer is a preventable, treatable, and beatable disease, and it is one of the few cancers that can be effectively managed through screening. We should take prevention seriously which is always a cheaper and better option, and ultimately, can help save lives.
What is colorectal cancer?
Cancer that originates from the colon and rectum is referred to as colorectal cancer. As per the World Health Organization (WHO) cancer mortality statistics, colorectal cancer is the third most common cause of cancer in the world in both men and women. It is estimated that about 4.3% of people will be diagnosed with colon or rectum cancer at some point in their lives. In Bangladesh, colorectal cancer is the third most common cause of all cancer deaths in the country. The main risk factor for colorectal cancer is increasing age. Around 90% of colorectal cancers are diagnosed after the age of 50.
Colorectal cancer is not a contagious disease. Factors that increase a person’s risk of colorectal cancer include increasing age, high fat intake, a family history of colorectal cancer and abnormal tissue growth also known as polyps, the presence of polyps in the large intestine, inflammatory bowel diseases, and primarily chronic ulcerative colitis.
Symptoms of colorectal cancer
Colorectal cancer might not cause any symptoms until it becomes late-stage, but when it does, it may cause one or more of these symptoms:
- A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool, that lasts for more than a few days
- Rectal bleeding with bright red blood
- Blood in the stool, which might make the stool look dark brown or black
- Cramping or abdominal pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Unintended weight loss
Many of these symptoms can also be caused by conditions other than colorectal cancer, such as an infection, hemorrhoids, or irritable bowel syndrome. Still, if you have any of these symptoms, it’s important to see your family doctor right away so the cause can be found and treated.
Preventing colorectal cancer
The most effective prevention is early detection and removal of precancerous cells and tissues before they turn cancerous. Even in cases where cancer has already developed, early detection still significantly improves the chances of recovery, as cancer can be surgically removed before spreading to other organs.
Other preventive measures include:
- Regular physical activity
- Hormone replacement therapy lowers the risk in postmenopausal women
- Diets with reduced fat intake and increased fiber
- People with a family history may take advantage of genetic counseling, followed possibly by genetic testing
Screening to help early detection of colorectal cancer
Screening for colorectal cancer can greatly reduce the risk of death associated with the disease. The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends strongly that screening should begin at age 50 for average-risk adults.
People at high risk might need to start screening before age 45. This includes people with:
- Strong family history of colorectal cancer
- Personal or family history of certain types of polyps
- Personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease)
- Family history of a hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
- Personal history of radiation to the abdomen or pelvic area to treat a prior cancer
Praava’s molecular cancer diagnostics lab performs numerous tests for colorectal cancer – including screening through blood tests and therapeutics. Praava’s tests include:
- Septin 9 methylation test – The procedure for screening is through a blood test
- KRAS mutation test – The test is done through the blood sample
- NRAS mutation test – The test can be done with both blood and a tissue sample
- BRAF Mutation test – The test can be done with both blood and a tissue sample
If you are at high risk for colorectal cancer, talk to your healthcare provider to learn more and take measures accordingly.