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Health Department: March is colorectal cancer awareness month

Colorectal cancer is the nation’s second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths for men and women. The colon and rectum make up the lower part of the digestive tract, or large intestine. Cancer that occurs in this area is called colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer does not always cause symptoms, but if it does, it may cause one or more of these:

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• A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool, that lasts for more than a few days

• Rectal bleeding

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• Blood in the stool, which may make the stool look dark or tarry

• Abdominal discomfort (gas, bloating, fullness, cramps)

• Unexplained weight loss

These symptoms can be caused by conditions other than colorectal cancer. If you experience symptoms, it is important to see your doctor right away so the cause can be found and treated.

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There are several options for colorectal cancer screening, including stool tests and sigmoidoscopy, but colonoscopy is generally considered the most effective and accurate screening tool. It allows the doctor to see the entire colon and remove polyps (precancerous lesions) or other abnormal growths, often before they become cancerous. The colon must be thoroughly emptied and cleansed before the test and the patient is asleep while it is performed.

It is recommended that everyone receive colorectal cancer screening by the time they are 50 years old. If you have personal or family history of colorectal cancer or any other risk factors, your health care provider may want you to start screening at a younger age.

If you live in Carroll County, the Carroll County Health Department’s Colorectal Cancer Screening Program can help you get a colonoscopy if you are uninsured or under-insured and meet eligibility guidelines. For more information, visit our website at https://cchd.maryland.gov/health-services-colorectal-cancer-screening-program/ or call 410-876-4429 or 410-876-4966.

There are several healthy lifestyle habits that you can adopt to help lower your risk of all types of cancer, not just colorectal cancer:

• Quit smoking. The Carroll County Health Department can provide no-cost help to do this. Call 410-876-4429 for more information.

• Eat a healthy diet that is high in vegetables, fruit, and whole grains

• Get regular exercise

• Limit alcohol intake

Following your doctor’s recommendations for colorectal cancer screening and making some simple lifestyle changes are excellent steps to help you improve and maintain your health for many years!

Anne Grauel, M.P.H., is community health educator, Cigarette Restitution Fund Programs, Carroll County Health Department

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