It’s March – Let’s Talk About Colorectal Cancer

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March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. In honor of colorectal cancer awareness, we’re featuring a guest blog from Andi Dwyer, Co-Director of the Colorado Colorectal Screening Program at the University of Colorado Cancer Center and Program Director at the Colorado School of Public Health. 

March is upon us, and while we typically think of shamrocks and college basketball this time of year, it’s also a time to save lives. In case you’re wondering why the city and county buildings you drive by are illuminated blue, it’s to let us all know that March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

My job is to perform research and lead public health initiatives to decrease colorectal cancer rates, but it’s also a personal mission.  My mom was diagnosed with colorectal cancer at 42, and like many, she was very private and embarrassed about it. She’s fine now, but I’ve seen firsthand how not talking about screenings and risk factors can put the people you love in danger.

My hope is that we can all put aside any awkwardness, take a more lighthearted approach and focus on a simple, proven way to prevent serious illness and death from a disease that’s treatable if we catch it in time.

Unfortunately, despite the proven effectiveness of colorectal cancer exams, Colorado’s screening rates haven’t increased much over the last 5 years. That’s not OK. Based on a decade of fighting this disease, I’ve found the biggest two factors that make a difference are getting people the information they need and, more importantly, encouraging them to do something with that information. So here are some fast facts for you:

  1. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death, killing over 600 people each year in Colorado.
  2. Colorectal cancer is one of the only types of cancer that can be prevented with a colonoscopy. Seriously, the preparation for the exam is sooo minimal. It’s definitely not an excuse not to have one.
  3. Talk to your health care provider about which screening test is right for you. There’s a menu of options, some don’t even require advance preparation or taking a day off.
  4. The age 50 has been the “Golden Number” when we talk about starting regular screenings, but recently more and more young people are being diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
  5. Get it while supplies last- If you have insurance, most plans cover colorectal cancer screening-including Medicaid and Medicare. But due to market uncertainty and the current political climate around healthcare, things may change, so take advantage of your coverage and get it done now!

Should you get screened?

  • If you are 50 and haven’t been screened, make plans this March to GET IT DONE!
  • Anyone with blood in their stool, changes in their bowel habits, unexplained weight loss, stomach pain, or who just isn’t feeling right needs to talk to their doctor. NO MATTER HOW OLD YOU ARE!
  • If you have a history of colorectal cancer in your family, especially your immediate family (mom, dad, kiddos or siblings) your doctor may recommend you start screening WAY ahead of your 50th birthday!

I know better than anyone that talking about colorectal cancer can be awkward, so it’s important to liven things up and get past that. Let’s make it fun!

  • Take the punch list above to your St. Patty’s Day party and share the information! (I don’t necessarily recommend you pinch anyone who hasn’t been screened, but if it encourages them to get it done…)
  • Share tips with your friends while watching March Madness and comparing brackets, it’ll be off the chain!

Seriously though, make it a point to talk to your family about your shared health conditions and find out if you have a history of CRC or other cancers. Encourage people around you to seek medical care if you have any symptoms of CRC, and go in for regular screenings. And come on already, if you are 50 or older, just get it done. With your help, we can see our screening rates in Colorado increase and save more people statewide.

For more information about colorectal cancer screening and resources visit: https://fightcolorectalcancer.org/.

If you live in eastern/southeastern Colorado, there’s a special campaign – use your smart phone and text the word: ENDCANCER to the number 21333, they’ll hook you up!