March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and eternalHealth wants to raise awareness about this deadly disease. Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in both men and women in the United States, and 2023 estimates are projecting 153,020 people will be diagnosed this year alone. Read on to educate yourself more on what colorectal cancer is, when to get screened, how to prevent it, and more!
What is Colorectal Cancer?
Colorectal cancer is the second deadliest cancer in the United States effecting the colon and rectum, which are the final parts of the digestive tract. Colon cancer is found most commonly in adults 45 and older but has recently become more prevalent in those younger than 45 as well. This type of cancer usually begins with small, benign (noncancerous) clumps of cells called polyps that are found on the inside of the colon. While not common, it is possible for these polyps to become cancerous over time. These polyps may be small and produce few if any symptoms. To lower the risk of cancer, it is important to keep up with your annual wellness visits to screen and identify polyps.
Who Should Get Screened
Screening is the best way to prevent colorectal cancer, so it is a good idea to get tested annually. While it is important for everyone to get tested, there are risk factors that may put you at a higher risk, making getting screened even more crucial. These risk factors can include:
- History of Colorectal Polyps– if you have already had polyps, even noncancerous ones, you are at an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer.
- Older Age– although colon cancer can be diagnosed at any age, a vast majority of those diagnosed are older than 50.
- Race and Ethnicity- African-American men and women are more likely to get colorectal cancer that other races and ethnicities.
- Inflammatory Intestinal Conditions– such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis can increase your risk of colorectal cancer.
- Family History of Colorectal Cancer– you’re more likely to develop colon cancer if a blood relative has had the disease.
- Low Fiber- High Fat Diet– colorectal cancer may be associated with a common American diet, especially with those that have diets high in red meat and processed meat.
- Lifestyle– obesity, smoking, alcohol use, and a sedentary lifestyle all increase your risk of colorectal cancer.
While this is not a complete list of risk factors, it is important to talk to your doctor about your risks and what screening options are best for you. There are a number of different tests that are available based on your risk, so talk to your primary care doctor about which one would be best for you.
The beginning stages of colorectal cancer frequently do not have any obvious symptoms, but when they do start to occur, it’s important to know what to look out for. Common symptoms of colorectal cancer include:
- Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool.
- Persistent abdominal discomfort such as gas, pain, or cramping.
- A persistent change in your bowel habits, including increased constipation or diarrhea, or even a change in the consistency of your stools.
- Feeling as though your bowels are not emptying completely.
- Weakness or fatigue.
- Unexplained or unplanned weight loss.
The best way to catch and prevent colon cancer is screening regularly, but there are many lifestyle changes you can make that will reduce your risk of colorectal cancer. To reduce your risk, implement some or all of the following lifestyle changes.
- Eat More Vegetables, Fruits, and Whole Grains– a diet high in fiber, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants can reduce your risk of developing cancer. Use eternalHealth’s healthy grocery benefit* to start making some healthy meals to jump start this change!
- Drink alcohol in moderation– if you choose to drink alcohol, limit the amount you consume daily.
- Maintain a healthy weight– utilize diet and exercise to maintain a healthy weight, or to lose weight when needed. Eat whole foods and try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise most days. Be sure to talk to your doctor about any planned weight loss regimens. With eternalHealth’s robust fitness benefit, you can take advantage of local and national fitness facilities, at home workouts, and over 28,000 on demand and live workouts, right from your home all at no extra cost to you!
- Stop smoking– studies have shown that smoking can increase the risk of colorectal cancer by 20%. Talk to your doctor about ways to quit that may work best for you.
Don’t Forget About Your Annual Wellness Visit!
Annual Wellness Visits were designed as a yearly appointment with your primary care provider to update and personalize a prevention plan with you. During this appointment weight, height, blood pressure, and other routine measures will be assessed, your risk of falls and hearing impairments will be reviewed, and a screening schedule will be created. This screening schedule includes things like screening for diabetes, depression, and colorectal cancers. Be sure to book your annual wellness visit and talk to your doctor about what is best for you and schedule your appointments today!
Although colorectal cancer is considered the second deadliest cancer in the United States, recent trends have shown that the number of cases has been decreasing over the past few years, especially amongst those 55 and up. Another piece of good news is that with the increase in the number of screening options, many cases of colorectal cancer have been caught early, and when caught early, these cases have a 90% survival rate. Talk to your doctor today about what steps you can take to prevent colorectal cancer, along with any questions you might have about prevention methods and treatment options.
To learn more about Medicare Advantage plans, visit eternalHealth.com or call 1 (800) 831-9218 (TTY 711).
*The benefits mentioned are a part of a special supplemental program for the chronically ill. Not all members qualify.