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Floridians: March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

Learn about the risks of colorectal cancer

David M is a doctor in his 50‘s and should know better.

He had a mother with colon cancer which put him at a higher risk for the disease, but says he was too busy to get the routine colonoscopy he recommends for his patients.

Only after experiencing symptoms including intermittent rectal bleeding and back pain for several months did he finally relent and see his physician. A week later, a colonoscopy revealed the bad news - he had colon cancer and would need surgery.

Luckily, the cancer was still relatively small and had not spread, so he could be cured with surgery alone. However, after the operation he developed an infection that kept him in the hospital for more than 3 weeks. Had he had the recommended routine screening, his gastroenterologists would likely have found the tumor at the pre-cancer (polyp) stage, eliminating the need for surgery altogether.

Even those of us without risk factors have a 1 in 20 chance of getting colorectal cancer in our lifetime. However, with routine screening colonoscopy, no one should die from colorectal cancer. Unfortunately, every year 50,000 people do. Colon cancer is the now the #2 killer cancer in the United States.

That’s why President Obama declared March 2014 as National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

The hope is that the public will take the time to learn about the risks of the disease and ways to lower that risk.

Who are considered at high risk for colorectal cancer?

Although colorectal cancer is most common after age 50 and the risk increases with age, it can occur in younger individuals. Those at highest risk include:
-People with family histories of the disease
-A personal history of colorectal polyps, which are abnormal growths in the colon (75 to 90 percent of colorectal cancers can be avoided by removing pre-cancerous polyps)
-Inherited forms of colorectal cancer or polyps
-An underlying inflammatory gastrointestinal disease such as Crohn's or ulcerative colitis

Most early colorectal cancers produce no symptoms, which is why screening is so critical.
With regular colonoscopies, pre-cancers (polyps) can be removed before they turn into cancer.

Under the new Affordable Care Act (ACA) most insurance plans will start offering free preventive services including colorectal cancer screening for all adults ages 50 (African Americans starting at age 45) to 75.

What are way to lower the risk of colorectal cancer?
- Cut back on alcohol
- Get more exercise
- Make healthier food choices (less red meat, more fiber, fruits and vegetables)

Bottom line: March is colorectal cancer awareness month, so it's a good time for Floridians to review and put in practice the latest recommendations for prevention.

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