Colorectal cancer is the third most frequently diagnosed type of cancer—behind breast and lung cancers respectively. More than 130,000 men and women are projected to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2016. March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and there’s no better time to learn about it with help from Colin Bird, MD, a surgeon at Regional Surgical Specialists, an affiliate of Mission Health.

What Is Colorectal Cancer?

“It starts with a polyp,” said Dr. Bird, “which is an abnormal growth of cells in the lining of the colon. They’re usually harmless, but they have the ability to continue to generate, as mutations occur, into a cancer.”

Fifty is the recommended age for an initial colorectal screening. “If we didn’t screen for it, approximately one in 20 people would likely progress to colon cancer,” said Dr. Bird.

Effective Screening Techniques

The colonoscopy is the most effective screening test for colorectal cancer. During the procedure, a thin, flexible tube is inserted in the rectum to check for polyps. “Colonoscopy remains the gold standard for screening. The beauty of this method is that it is both diagnostic and therapeutic—if I find a polyp, I can remove it then and there,” said Dr. Bird.

What a Diagnosis of Colorectal Cancer Means

“Treatment depends on the stage of the cancer,” said Dr. Bird. Patients need to remember that the medical professionals they’re working with—surgeons, oncologists, radiologists and others—are working toward a single goal: to create an individualized treatment plan that will address the cancer as effectively as possible, while still preserving as much normalcy in the patient’s life as possible.

Prevention

Whether or not one has been diagnosed with colorectal cancer, there are important self-care strategies everyone can heed. The highest risk factors for colorectal cancer, according to Dr. Bird, include a family history of colorectal cancer and a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease. However, obesity, excessive alcohol and red meat consumption, smoking and diabetes are linked to an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Great strides have been and continue to be made in the fight against colorectal cancer. “With improved rates of screening, more advanced chemotherapeutic agents and the ongoing evolution of surgery, we have been able to significantly improve outcomes in colon cancer in the last twenty years,” said Dr. Bird.

Speak to your primary care physician about when you should begin colorectal screening and how often you should be tested. To find a Mission Health primary care provider near you, visit mission-health.org/primarycare. Dr. Colin Bird is a surgeon at Regional Surgical Specialists, an affiliate of Mission Health. (828) 252-3366.

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