PUBLISHED: 2:31 PM on Wednesday, March 9, 2005
Colorectal cancer: Catching it early is key
March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Colorectal cancer is an increasing problem in Alaska.

Colorectal cancer, which includes cancers of the colon and rectum, is the second deadliest cancer in the United States, after lung cancer. Fortunately, colorectal cancers are highly treatable if found early. In fact, the survival rate for people with colorectal cancers treated in the early stages is more than 90 percent according to the American Cancer Society.

"Everyone at average risk for developing colorectal cancer should start screening for the disease when they reach 50 years of age," said Joshua Ellenhorn, M.D., physician, Division of Surgery at City of Hope Cancer Center in Los Angeles. "People at high risk of getting colorectal cancer should talk to their doctors about starting screening earlier or more often."

Risk factors associated with colorectal cancer include:

l Personal history of colorectal cancer, bowel disease or polyps

l Family history of colorectal cancer

l Being older than 50 years of age

l A diet of mostly high-fat foods

Dr. Ellenhorn suggests reducing the risk of developing colorectal cancer by exercising regularly, eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains and also by limiting the consumption of high-fat foods.

Some studies also suggest that taking supplements containing folic acid, folate or calcium might reduce colorectal cancer risk.

Screening and knowing risk factors for colorectal cancer is important since symptoms of the disease often do not appear until after the disease has advanced. Although colorectal cancer may not necessarily be the case, contact a physician if any of the following occur:

l A change in bowel habits that lasts for more than a few days

l Bleeding from the rectum

l Blood in the stool

l Cramping or gnawing stomach pains