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Colorectal Cancer Awareness

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Colorectal cancer (meaning cancer of the colon or rectum) is the third most common cancer among American men and women and the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. Each year, 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with this cancer, and another 50,000 will die. I lost my mother to this disease almost 20 years ago. Truly this is a cancer that is deserving of our attention towards prevention and early detection.

But this is also a cancer that a lot of people don’t want to talk about. Yes, it has to do with butts and bowel movements, but this is important stuff. According to the CDC, if every American aged 50 and older were screened regularly, as many as 60% of colorectal cancer deaths could be avoided. You’d think that kind of statistic would have people lining up at their doctor’s door. Unfortunately, many people have a sort of nightmarish vision of what a colonoscopy is, and therefore, they avoid the tests.

I’ve had my share of colonoscopies, and I won’t lie to you – while they’re the most accurate screening test for colorectal cancer, they’re not fun. But the good news is that you only have to get one every ten years (unless you have increased risk factors, such as a close relative with colorectal cancer or an inflammatory bowel disease like ulcerative colitis – in these cases, you’ll likely need them more often). What’s two or three days of discomfort once a decade when compared to the overall good of your health? And if you absolutely cannot bear the idea of a colonoscopy, there are alternative tests, such as a virtual colonoscopy or a fecal occult blood test. The point is to get screened, period.

In addition to screenings, the primary goal is of course to avoid cancer in the first place. As it turns out, the tips to avoid colorectal cancer are the usual prescription for a healthy life and disease prevention of all kinds:

• Make plant-based whole foods (such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains) the foundation of your diet.
• Eat only small amounts of red meat and avoid processed meats (such as most sausages and deli meats).
• Don’t smoke. Drink alcohol only in moderation.
• Maintain a healthy body weight.
• Get 20-30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week.

Sadly, I bet most of us know someone who has been affected by colorectal cancer. Together we can work to take this second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths and knock it down a few notches. Be healthy, get regular screenings, and encourage your friends and loved-ones to do the same. Keep moving, my friends!

– Alan

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