March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and we at Albemarle Square Family Healthcare want to share some important facts about this deadly disease. We will cover the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer, as well as screenings and risk factors.

Albemarle Square Family Healthcare is a whole family healthcare clinic that offers pediatrics, women’s health, and comprehensive geriatric care. Additionally, we offer mental health services, occupational screenings, physicals, and so much more. To get started, make an appointment with us today!

Here are facts about colorectal cancer you should know.

Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer

For many, colorectal cancer doesn’t begin with noticeable symptoms, and it isn’t until the disease has progressed that most begin to notice symptoms. This is one reason why scheduling screenings according to your healthcare provider’s recommendations is so important. Here are signs to watch out for.

  • Ongoing pain in the lower abdomen, which can include cramps, pain, and a feeling of gassiness
  • Bleeding in the rectum or blood found in the stools
  • Change in habits that lasts more than four weeks, which can include: diarrhea, constipation, and softer or harder stools than usual
  • A feeling that your bowels aren’t emptying
  • Weight loss that is unexplained
  • Fatigue and weakness that can’t be explained

When Colorectal Cancer Screenings Should Begin

Most guidelines suggest starting these screenings at the age of 50. However, if you have a family history or other symptoms or precursors to the disease, discuss these with your healthcare provider—he or she may suggest a different time frame for you. And, if you have noticed the symptoms above, it is never too early to discuss your concerns with your physician. Give us a call to make an appointment right away.

The Types of Colorectal Cancer Screenings

Diagnosing colorectal cancer involves a few types of tests. The types of screenings for colorectal cancer will be dependent upon several factors, and your healthcare provider might recommend various testing protocols from one person to the next.

  • Colonoscopy – A colonoscopy is a test wherein a specialist will insert a tiny camera through your rectum that will move through the rectum, colon, and intestines. As it moves, it will take pictures and the specialist will be able to see if any polyps or signs of cancer are present.
  • Virtual Colonoscopy – A newer test available is the virtual colonoscopy, which, instead of using a scope, uses CT scanning. If abnormalities are found, a regular colonoscopy will likely be used to follow this up to remove polyps.
  • Other types of imaging – In addition to, or instead of, a colonoscopy, your doctor may order an ultrasound, CT scan, PET scan, or MRI to get images from various angles and the surrounding organs and tissues.
  • Fecal Occult Blood Tests (FOBT) – Blood in the stools can be detected visually, but sometimes, you can’t see it or just don’t notice it. An FOBT test will look specifically for blood in the stools.
  • Stool DNA Test – Another type of test that looks for blood in the stools is the stool DNA test. In addition to blood, this testing will analyze DNA biomarkers to determine if cancer is present.

Not all tests are appropriate for everyone, so it is important to speak to your provider about your options and which tests are right for you.

Risk Factors

Are you at a higher risk for colorectal cancer? Here are some of the factors you should be aware of.

  • Age 50 and older
  • Personal or family history of cancer of the colon
  • Chronic inflammatory disease of the colon, such as Crohn’s
  • Low-fiber diet
  • Sedentary lifestyle, especially if you don’t engage in physical activity
  • Obesity
  • Smoking and heavy alcohol use
  • Diabetes

To discuss colorectal cancer, make an appointment at Albemarle Square Family Healthcare today. We offer comprehensive geriatric care, and care for the whole family. For Charlottesville primary care doctors and nurse practitioners, give us a call now!