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Cancer Awareness General

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Dr. Drex Dobson, a colorectal surgeon with Steward Health Care, shares his expertise in the following Q and A to heighten awareness of this health issue.

Why is it so important to pay attention to your colorectal health? 

Colorectal health is a very important though often under-appreciated part of our daily lives. Having a good diet that is high in fiber and low in saturated fats and processed foods contributes greatly toward our colorectal health. As we age, other things began to affect our colorectal health. One of these things is the development of colorectal cancer and its precursor, colorectal polyps. The development of polyps in the colon and rectum in most people is spontaneous and puts us at risk for the development of colorectal cancer. However, in those of us with family members who are first or second-degree relatives who have colon polyps or colorectal cancer, puts us at a much greater risk for the development of colorectal cancer. All of these factors can jeopardize our colorectal health.

What are current recommended guidelines for undergoing a colonoscopy? 

In those of us who do not have any family members with either polyps or colorectal cancer starting before the age of 60, it is now the recommendation to have a screening test such as a colonoscopy, DNA stool sample that checks for polyp or colon cancer DNA, or a barium enema starting at the age of 45. If anyone in the family has had a colorectal cancer or polyps before the age of 60, it is recommended to start 20 years before the onset of the age of their earliest presentation. If you personally have a history of Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, you may even have to start screening sooner as these conditions are associated with an even greater risk of colorectal cancer.

How important is family history? 

Family history is very important because it is the only known risk factor that is associated with a definitive increase in the risk of development of colorectal polyps and cancer. Being a first or second degree relative to an individual who has colon and rectal polyps or cancer puts one at a greater risk for the development of the same problem, and ultimately at a greater risk for colorectal cancer.

Can you speak about the recent rising incidence of colorectal cancer in younger adults?  

There is no definitive evidence as to why this is increasing however it is thought that obesity, poor diet, and certain environmental factors may increase the risk of the development of colorectal cancer. Unfortunately, since patients are younger and do not often present until symptoms are present, they often present at increased stages which makes the situation more life-threatening.

Tips for staying healthy

Things that can help us stay healthy include: a diet that is healthy, low in saturated fats, processed foods, and high in fiber. This definitely helps to prevent the onset of the development of polyps and colorectal cancer.  A regular exercise program, staying at a good body weight (avoiding obesity), and following screening guidelines all help to keep us healthy.

If you need to schedule an appointment with your provider to discuss your colorectal health, visit www.providers.steward.org.