March is Colon Cancer Awareness month, and if you’re wondering why colon cancer gets its own month, the answer is simple: Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. It is the third leading cause of cancer-related death in women, and the second leading cause for men. Colon cancer will affect 1 in 21 men, and 1 in 23 women, at some point in their lifetimes. As you can see, colon cancer poses a significant risk.
Are you at risk of colon cancer? Technically, anyone could develop colon cancer. But we do know that certain factors increase your risk.
- Over age 50
- Drinking more than one or two alcoholic beverages daily
- Lack of exercise (sedentary lifestyle)
- Diet high in saturated fats, and lacking fruits, vegetables, and fiber
- Race – African Americans are at increased risk
- A personal history of colon polyps
- Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- Genetic risk – a close relative has been diagnosed with colon cancer
- You’ve undergone radiation therapy for another type of cancer
Reduce your risk. Obviously, there is nothing you can do about some of the above contributing factors. You can’t change your age, race, or family medical history, for example. But you can begin eating more fruits and vegetables, and less saturated fats and sugars.
You should also quit smoking, cut back on alcoholic beverages, and exercise more. Losing weight will help lower your risk of colon cancer as well as diabetes, which can be a contributing factor. And of course, a healthy diet can reduce your risk of inflammatory digestive conditions, as well as preventing cancer.
Get screened. If you’re age 50 or older, it’s time to schedule your first screening for colon cancer. When caught early, the progression of the disease can be halted or reversed. You should schedule this screening even if you feel relatively healthy, as polyps can be detected and removed before they ever cause symptoms. Once you begin to notice symptoms, the disease has already progressed.
Call your doctor right away, and ask about starting routine screenings. Testing procedures have improved drastically in recent years, and could help you live a longer, healthier, and happier life.