Early detection made the life-or-death difference for most of the million people who have survived the second greatest cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Projecting 4,630 new cases per day in 2017 – and 1,650 deaths per day – the American Cancer Society is just one of the organizations dedicated to using March as an annual marker for raising awareness of the disease.

Often called colon cancer for short, colorectal cancer occurs in the large intestine, about five feet of tube-like tissue that works to harvest water and salts from the food we eat, after other nutrients have been extracted in the small intestine. Together, the intestines are the last two stages in the gastro-intestinal (GI) system that converts what we eat into nourishment.

Regular Screenings are Key to Detection

Certain changes in bowel habits can be signs of colorectal cancer, but many cases advance without symptoms, and, in fact, most people with early colorectal cancer don’t have symptoms at all. That’s why regular screenings after the age of 50 are recommended.

Family medical history is step one for screening because there is a hereditary factor in risks. Your physician will feel externally for lumps or swollen organs from outside the abdomen. Blood tests can reveal signs of colorectal cancer, too, from a number of markers, including complete blood count (CBC) liver enzymes and tumor markers such as CEA and CA 19-9.

Colonoscopy is Not the Only Test

Colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy are important ways of finding polyps, which are small growths on the inside wall of the large intestine. Polyps can take several benign and precancerous forms, but cancer cells, if present in a polyp, can attach to the intestine wall and, from there, enter the bloodstream to grow elsewhere in the body. Consequently, finding polyps early is important.

Physicians recommend regular colonoscopy exams after the age of 50. In this case, “regular” means every five or 10 years, depending on risk factors. It is usually a half-hour, outpatient exam using a form of anesthetic that relaxes or sedates the patient; so many folks don’t even remember the process.

Imaging tests such as CT scans and ultrasound MRIs are other ways physicians detect colorectal cancer.

Prevention is a Way of Life

Reducing your risk of colorectal cancer is one of the many “two birds with one stone” facets of preventative healthcare, because the same lifestyle choices, habits and patterns that reduce our risk of heart disease and diabetes can also give us better odds of living without colorectal cancer.

A dialogue with your family doctor is the basis around which prevention and detection of every kind can revolve. Why not schedule an appointment with us at Global Family Medicine to talk about how to guard your kidneys’ vital function? Call us at 843-815-6468.