March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month!

It’s been 18 years since March was dedicated as National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and together we can mark our calendars and join in to rally around this good cause. Whether you’re a survivor, patient, advocate, or medical professional, raising awareness is an essential part of detecting and preventing colon cancer. To help you make the most of this month, GANV of Northern Virginia encourages you to learn about colorectal cancer and how you can avoid it.

An overview of colon cancer

Adenomatous polyps begin as benign clumps of cells that form in the large intestine. Over time, some of these small clusters of cells can become colon cancer, and often they provide little if any symptoms. There are several ways to screen for colon cancer such as examining the colon using a scope and testing blood.

There are 4 stages of colon cancer.

Stage I: The cancer hasn’t spread past the rectum or colon wall but has gone through the mucosa.

Stage II: The cancer hasn’t spread to the lymph nodes but has gone through the colon wall.

Stage III: The body isn’t affected yet, but the lymph nodes have been invaded.

Stage IV: The cancer has spread to other organs and sites such as the lungs.

Treatments are based on the stage of colon cancer that the person is in. In some cases, it can be removed during a colonoscopy while in others surgery and drug therapy will be necessary.

The symptoms of colon cancer

While many people don't experience any symptoms of colon cancer, some signs can alert you to see a doctor. These include:

  • Rectal bleeding
  • A bowel that does not entirely empty
  • Continual abdominal discomfort such as cramps
  • Change in bowel habits that persists longer than a month
  • Weight loss with no change in diet
  • Feelings of weakness

Whether you notice symptoms or not, if you are African American, over 50 years old, or have a family member that was diagnosed with colon cancer, you’re at a higher risk of developing it. Also, if you have diabetes, are overweight and lead a sedentary lifestyle, and have a tendency to use alcohol and smoke in excess, you may be at a greater risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Reduce your risk of colon cancer

To reduce your risk of colon cancer, take steps such as quitting smoking and reducing alcohol intake, getting plenty of daily exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and eating a diet that is high in fiber.

You should also schedule routine colonoscopies at GANV. Colon cancer is one of the most treatable and preventable diseases, and it can be easily detected. But you have to take the first step and get regular screenings, and there is no better time than during Colon Cancer Awareness Month!

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