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March is National Colorectal (Colon) Cancer Awareness Month

(CHCC) — Of cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the United States, but it does not have to be.

Colorectal cancer screening saves lives.

Screening can find precancerous polyps —abnormal growths in the colon or rectum — so that they can be removed before turning into cancer.

Screening also helps find colorectal cancer at an early stage, when treatment often leads to a cure. About nine out of every 10 people whose colorectal cancers are found early and treated appropriately are still alive five years later.

It is important for both men and women to know what they can do to lower their risk of having colon cancer. The screening age for colon cancer for men and women is 50-75 years old and it reduces the chance of getting colon cancer. If you think you may be at higher than average risk for colorectal cancer, speak with your doctor about being screened early.

While screening rates have increased in the U.S., not enough people are being screened for colorectal cancer. In 2012, 65 percent of U.S. adults were up-to-date with colorectal cancer screening; 7 percent had been screened, but were not up-to-date; and 28 percent had never been screened.

Types of screenings conducted for colon cancer are: a High-Sensitivity FOBT or stool test, which is a set of two tests. One uses the chemical guaiac to detect blood. The other, a fecal immunochemical test or FIT, uses antibodies to detect blood in the stool. Stool tests are recommended once every year.

Another kind of screening is a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is when the doctor uses a longer, thin, flexible, lighted tube to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and the entire colon.

During the test, the doctor can find and remove most polyps and some cancers.

Colonoscopy is also used as a follow-up test if anything unusual is found during one of the other screening tests.

Your risk of getting colorectal cancer increases, as you get older. More than 90 percent of cases occur in people who are 50 years old or older. Other risk factors include having:

• Inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis.

• A personal or family history of colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps.

• A genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome).

Lifestyle factors that may contribute to an increased risk of colorectal cancer include:

• Lack of regular physical activity.

• Low fruit and vegetable intake.

• A low-fiber and high-fat diet.

• Overweight and obesity.

• Alcohol consumption.

• Tobacco use.