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What you can and should do to prevent Colorectal Cancer

Posted at 2:58 PM, Mar 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-12 18:14:42-05

BALTIMORE — Colorectal Cancer is one of the more common deadly forms of cancer people face.

But it's also one of the most curable, if diagnosed early.

The problem is, often times colorectal cancer can be asymptomatic.

Recently WMAR-2 News spoke with Dr. Lawrence Mills, Chief of Gastroenterology at MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital, to find out what measures we can take to best prevent it.

The first thing to remember, is getting a colonoscopy starting between ages 45 and 50.

"It's the best screening test we have at this point, it's one of the most curable cancers if you catch it in time," said Dr. Mills.

The survival rate is about 90 percent if discovered before spreading.

According to Dr. Mills, "most cases start in polyps (growths) which are cancer precursors and can be removed during a colonoscopy."

So what exactly is a colonoscopy?

The American Cancer Society describes it as this.

"A flexible tube about the width of a finger with a light and small video camera on the end. It’s put in through the anus and into the rectum and colon. Special instruments can be passed through the colonoscope to take a sample or remove any suspicious-looking areas such as polyps, if needed."

How often should you get one.

For some it's every decade, because a polyp can take 10 to 15 years to develop into cancer.

Most people however may need one every three years, depending on the type, size, and number of polyps detected.

Now it's important not to confuse a polyp with piles, another name for hemorrhoids, which are engorged blood vessels in the anus.

"The terminology unfortunately is confusing, because people mix up piles from polyps," said Dr. Mills.

What puts most people at risk is a family history. Colorectal Cancer can be genetic and hereditary.

Dr. Mills recommends a colonoscopy for those individuals, "5 to 10 years before the earliest age of who had cancer."

This type of cancer is known to progress more rapidly in young people, as opposed to the older population.

It also affects African Americans more than Caucasians, which means a colonoscopy should be sought years earlier.

Although people may feel no symptoms, there are many red flags that could potentially pop up.

"One of the common symptoms is rectal bleeding," Dr. Mills says. "If you see bright red or dark blood in the stool, usually not black, that could be your first manifestation of cancer."

Other signs could be simple abdominal pain, which Dr. Mills says is more likely to occur on your left side, because the colon there is more narrow than on the right.

Another thing to keep an eye on is iron deficiency. That too could be a hint. Fatigue is the most common symptom.

There are some lifestyle changes that could reduce your chance of getting Colorectal Cancer.

Dr. Mills says consuming less red meat and increasing your fiber intake could help protect you.

To learn more about who should be screened and when, click here.