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The good news is, colorectal cancer is largely preventable and curable. The bad news is, it is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in Missouri.

The Missouri Department of Health is reminding Missourians that March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness and Prevention Month. Bert Malone, director of the department's Division of Chronic Disease Control and Health Promotion stated, "Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths, both statewide and nationally. Yet, this cancer can be detected early, and in some cases prevented, through regular screening tests." Detecting colorectal cancer early is the best way to improve the chance of a cure. Each year, 1,300 Missourians die from colorectal cancer." Malone added, "If Missourians would follow the American Cancer Society's screening recommendations, we could reduce deaths from colorectal cancer by 70-80%. That's potentially over 1,000 lives that could be saved each year, every year."

Often, there are no warning signs or symptoms of colorectal cancer, especially in the early stages of the disease. This emphasizes the importance of regular screening. At a minimum, the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends a yearly fecal occult blood test (FOBT) plus a flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years as a screening exam for colorectal cancer for healthy men and women beginning at age 50. Screening before age 50 is recommended if a close family member had colorectal cancer or if you have rectal bleeding, blood in the stool, or a change in bowel habits. A family physician should be consulted about appropriate screening at an appropriate age.

Prevention and early detection are possible because most colorectal cancers develop from polyps, or growths in the colon or rectum. Dr. Anjali Deshpandi, consultant epidemiologist with the state health department explains, "Physicians who urge their healthy patients, men and women who are age 50 and older, to follow the ACS screening recommendations may significantly lower the number of colorectal cancer cases by detecting and removing polyps that could become cancerous. Regular screening can prevent some colorectal cancers by removing polyps before they are fully formed or finding the disease early when it is highly curable."

In addition to regular recommended screening, the risks for developing colorectal cancer can be reduced with regular physical activity and a proper diet. Choose plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grain foods with limits on red meats and high-fat foods. Even small amounts of regular physical activity, such as a brisk walk most days, can be helpful.

"Remember," said Malone, "Colorectal cancer is preventable, treatable and beatable." Additional information about colorectal cancer may be obtained from the Missouri Department of Health, Bureau of Cancer Control by calling 1-800-316-0935 or the American Cancer Society at 1-800-ACS-2345.

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last updated: 10/27/08
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