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From the column Health and Wellnesshealth-wellness-03-15-1

Colorectal cancer (affecting the colon or rectum) is the third most common cancer in the United States and a leading cause of death from cancer. The colon and rectum are parts of the large intestine, which is the last portion of the intestine. Although it affects all racial and ethnic groups, you may be at higher risk if you are African-American, smoke, or have a family history of colorectal cancer. 


Often, there are no signs of this disease, that's why it's important to begin having regular screenings beginning at the age of 50. 


Here are some steps to prevent colorectal cancer: 

  • Get screened starting at age 50
  • Be active and eat healthy
  • Don't smoke and stay away from secondhand smoke
  • Avoid alcoholic beverages


Here are some steps to prevent colorectal cancer:

  • Changes in bowel habits—more constipation or diarrhea
  • Bright red or dark red stools
  • Abdominal bloating, discomfort or frequent gas
  • Abdominal discomfort


Different kinds of tests are used to screen for colorectal cancer. Some, such as a fecal occult blood test, can be done at home. Others, such as a colonoscopy, must be done in a clinic or hospital. Talk with your healthcare provider about what's best for you.


By the way, screening for colorectal cancer is covered under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for people over age 50. Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to be tested at no cost to you. Talk with your insurance provider.


If you have annual physicals (and you should after age 50) that's a good time to discuss the topic of colorectal cancer. Here are some questions you might want to discuss: 

  • Am I at risk for colorectal cancer?
  • What form of testing do you recommend?
  • What's involved in screening? How do I prepare?
  • Are there dangers or side affects associated with screening?
  • How long will it take to get the results of my test?
  • What can I do to reduce my risk of colorectal cancer? 

Colorectal cancer is preventable, beatable, and treatable, but this requires watching for the warning signs, being proactive if you suspect you have a problem, and getting regular screenings.


Sheila Capp, BSN, MS, PhD, has been in nursing education for 30 years, and is an active member of Emmanuel Church of the Nazarene in Quincy, Illinois.

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