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Many people don't think about colorectal (or colon) cancer very often. Let's face it, unless your digestive tract is giving you trouble, you probably never give it a thought. But that is what makes colorectal cancer so dangerous: often there are no symptoms at all.

Do you know these facts about colorectal cancer?

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•The colon and rectum make up the lower part of the digestive tract, or large intestine.

•Colorectal cancer is the nation's second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths for men and women.

•Colorectal cancer is one of only a few cancers that can be prevented.

•A colonoscopy is a test that allows your doctor to look at the inner lining of your large intestine.

•During a colonoscopy, your doctor can usually find and remove any abnormal growths before they turn into cancer.

But one in three adults ages 50 to 75 in the United States are not getting tested as recommended, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable (NCCRT) and more than 1,000 organizations have set a goal to save lives by having 80 percent of adults age 50 and over regularly screened for colorectal cancer by 2018 – or "80% by 2018." According to a 2015 study, if we can achieve 80 percent by 2018, 277,000 cases of colorectal cancer and 203,000 colorectal cancer deaths would be prevented by 2030.

The Carroll County Health Department is participating in the challenge to reach the goal of 80 percent by 2018. Through funds from the Cigarette Restitution Fund Program, the Health Department's Colorectal Cancer Screening Program offers free colonoscopies to rule out colon cancer for eligible Carroll County residents. Call the Colorectal Cancer Screening Program at 410-876-4966 or 410-876-4429.

Who is eligible?

•Must be a Carroll County resident;

•Meet income guidelines;

•Uninsured or under-insured;

•Age 50 or over;

•Or younger than age 50 if you have personal or family history of colorectal cancer, or if you are experiencing symptoms (see below).

The Colorectal Cancer Screening Program can also help Carroll County residents who have Medical Assistance, Medicare, or other insurance. We can help with scheduling appointments, abnormal results, and getting more testing and colorectal cancer treatment if needed.

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What are the symptoms of colorectal cancer?

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

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

•Rectal bleeding;

•Blood in the stool, which may make the stool look dark;

•Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain.

Many of these symptoms can be caused by conditions other than colorectal cancer. But it's important to see your doctor right away so the cause can be found and treated.

For more information, call the Carroll County Health Department at 410-876-4966 or 410-876-4429.

Anne Grauel, M.P.H., is a Community Health Educator with the Carroll County Health Department.

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