If someone in your life has been diagnosed with colon cancer, you might have asked yourself, “What can I do to help?" One of the most important things you can do is spread awareness of colon cancer. Awareness plays a huge role in everything from early diagnosis to long-term support of better treatments.
Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the United States and the second deadliest cancer. About 4.4% of men and 4.1% of women will be diagnosed with it during their lifetimes. Most of them will be over 50 years of age, but there are types of colorectal cancer that can begin much earlier.
The good news is that colorectal cancer is slow-growing in most cases, and in its early stages, much easier to treat successfully to achieve a complete cure. This makes awareness of early signs and symptoms of colon cancer and regular screening for it especially important.
An examination, such as a colonoscopy, often detects non-cancerous polyps in the colon that can be removed surgically before they turn malignant.
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Improved outlooks for patients depend upon widespread awareness of colon cancer's nature, symptoms, and the importance of regular screening. Colorectal cancer affects not just those diagnosed but also their family and friends.
That makes Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month an important opportunity to get everyone involved in understanding the disease and finding a way to help. More and more people have been doing exactly that since 2000, when former President Bill Clinton designated March as National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.
There are many ways you can get involved. It could be something as easy and fun as participating in the Colorectal Cancer Alliance's "Dress in Blue Day," held March 5 this year to bring awareness of the disease and support all those people who are affected by it. (Blue is the colon cancer awareness color.)
The colorectal cancer blue ribbon symbols and other graphics are available for free¹ to groups promoting colorectal cancer awareness. That includes some 1.4 million colorectal cancer patients and survivors.
The awareness month can be a time for you to start talking about colon cancer to family and friends, post something on Facebook or Instagram, and let people know what it was like when you got screened.
The highest priorities are to emphasize the toll of colorectal cancer² (some 52,000 lives each year in the United States) and how screening saves lives.
An important point you can make is that the symptoms of colorectal cancer often do not appear until cancer has begun to spread. That means regular screening for people over 45³ is crucial. Screening tests can detect cancer before it begins to spread.
Another good talking point is that symptoms of colorectal cancer are very similar to those of other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)—a common but less serious disease of the colon. You can clear up some questions or misconceptions. For example, IBS does not lead to or cause colorectal cancer, but they share some common symptoms.
Getting a better understanding of the disease and how much people still have to learn about it can lead to other involvement, such as volunteering or fundraising.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that only about two-thirds of Americans are up-to-date with colon cancer screening. The CDC recommends that Americans start a regular screening schedule at age 45, and those at greater risk should consult with their doctor about earlier screenings.
Following is a list of colorectal cancer risk factors:
Colorectal polyps, either non-cancerous or cancerous
Crohn's disease, which heightens the risk of colon and rectal cancer
Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), an inherited disorder characterized by colon and rectal cancer beginning as early as the teenage years
A family history of the disorder in a first-degree relative—mainly if a first-degree relative was diagnosed before age 50
Hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC), also known as Lynch syndrome, is another inherited disorder that increases your chances of colon cancer.
Lack of physical activity is associated with a higher risk of colon cancer
Poor diet, which affects the health of your digestive tract
Type 2 diabetes, associated with a generally high risk of developing cancer, including colorectal cancer
Ulcerative colitis, which may create a six times greater risk of colorectal cancer
People should understand that getting screened for colorectal cancer or having symptoms checked by a doctor is not painful. For example, a colonoscopy is carried out after being given medication to make you drowsy and relaxed; some patients may experience mild cramping.
People might feel embarrassed about getting a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy, but you should weigh that embarrassment against the procedures necessary for treating colon cancer. Also, an alternative is now available: the home-test kit.
Some great nonprofits are leading the charge against colon cancer, and they could use your help. A donation or some time spent fundraising can go a long way. There are countless opportunities online to raise money for awareness efforts, research, treatment facilities, and community care efforts.
The National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable (NCCR)⁴ is dedicated to bringing together and engaging public, private, and civic organizations and individuals involved in colorectal cancer prevention and early detection.
Over the past five years, its program, "80 Percent in Every Community," has engaged over 1,700 organizations in working toward regular colorectal screening for 80% of adults aged 50 and over. Community clinics, health plans, employers, local governments, and others are reaching that goal by bringing down barriers to screening and increasing awareness of its life-saving importance.
Fight Colorectal Cancer⁵ is a nonprofit organization advocating for informed support of patients, impact on policy, and cutting-edge research endeavors. It provides funds for research, publishes research results, calls attention to special needs such as research on early-onset colorectal cancer, and maintains a library of research and advocacy information.
The Colon Cancer Foundation⁶ in New York State focuses on resources for patients and research, including particular areas such as early-onset and hereditary colorectal cancer. It has supported young investigators entering the field with awards to promote their research. It also participates in Colorectal Cancer Awareness Week with such activities as the Colon Cancer Challenge walk through New York City's Central Park.
The Colon Cancer Coalition⁷ grew out of one young woman's determination to spread awareness of colorectal cancer and to help people get the proper screening at the right time. She is Kristin Lindquist, who, in 2004, started planning the first "Get Your Rear in Gear" run to promote colorectal cancer awareness. She had lost her best friend and sister to colon cancer. One woman's vision became a national coalition of people committed to ending colorectal cancer deaths through effective screening and education about the symptoms.
Here are some examples of ideas for fundraising on behalf of colon cancer awareness, treatment, and research, as suggested by the Colon Cancer Coalition:
Participate in or support endurance events (marathon training, bike races, a triathlon, or even just a hike) to raise money for a reputable colorectal cancer nonprofit organization.
Find a restaurant to host a "dine and donate" evening where part of the proceeds are contributed to a nonprofit organization in the colorectal cancer area.
Sponsor a silent auction of items contributed by businesses, with the proceeds going to a nonprofit organization fighting colorectal cancer. The auction can be a freestanding event or part of a larger event.
Poker tournaments, wine tastings, benefit concerts, and other enjoyable events can be occasions for building colorectal cancer awareness as well as raising funds for nonprofits leading the fight.
Not only is awareness of symptoms critical, but also regular colon cancer screening saves lives. Screening catches the earliest, most treatable stages of cancer before you even have any symptoms. By spreading information about colon cancer, we can save thousands of lives every year.