CCHD promotes Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

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Posted at 4:49 PM, Mar 08, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-08 19:12:27-05

GREAT FALLS — March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Colorectal cancer is a common type of cancer that is affecting more young people every year. Colorectal cancer, also known as colon cancer, usually starts in the colon or rectum when abnormal growths called polyps begin to grow. These growths can later turn into cancer.

“When you have a colonoscopy, they can remove the polyp,” explained Lacey Gallagher, health education specialist for the Cascade City-County Health Department. “That's why we can stop colorectal cancer by having screenings.”

According to the Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services, colon and rectal cancers were the third most common and deadly cancers in Montana from 2015 to 2019, with 220 women being diagnosed and 80 dying each year, and 280 men being diagnosed and 100 dying each year.

Colorectal cancer does not always show itself through symptoms, which is why regularly scheduled screenings are important. If there are symptoms, they include blood in your stool, long lasting stomach aches and pains, or unexpected weight loss.

“Colon cancer is a relatively slow growing cancer, but it's not so slow growing that if you have the signs or the symptoms that you shouldn't be screened, even before the age of 45,” Gallagher said.

The standard age people begin to get colorectal screenings used to be 50 and above. However, it has recently been discovered that younger and younger people are being affected by it. The reason for this is not entirely known, but some believe it is due to lifestyle and diet changes in young adults. The new standard is 45 years old, or if you have a family member with colon cancer, try to get screened ten years before the age they are diagnosed. Treatment for colorectal cancer can include surgeries and chemotherapy.

“But the reality is getting screened when you're younger and getting the polyps removed can save you from having to go through that kind of treatment,” Gallagher said.

According to the Montana Central Tumor Registry Annual Report from March of 2023 put out by the Montana DPHHS, more than 500 people are diagnosed with and 170 people die from colorectal cancer every year in Montana. The report says that 33 percent of cases are diagnosed at the local stage. Getting plenty of exercise, eating healthy food, and getting regular screenings are the best ways to avoid colorectal cancer.

“If you were born before 1979 and you haven't screened for colorectal cancer, March is a good month to do it,” Gallagher said.

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