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In Honor of Colon Cancer Awareness Month, Experts Say to Get Screened

Update Date: Mar 04, 2013 09:49 AM EST

The year Vicky Pullam turned 50, her doctor was adamant that she start screening for colorectal cancer. Every two years, Ms. Pullam would conduct the fecal occult blood test (FOBT), despite the fact that she was healthy and had no symptoms. Then, in 2011, Pullam noticed a change in her colon health. A test conducted by her doctor revealed that she indeed had a polyp in her colon. After it was removed, she learned that the polyp was detected before it became cancerous.

March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month, and communities are pulling out all the stops to make people informed. In Canada, billboards urge people to "make their bottom their priority". According to ABC News, billboards in Canada have naked butts on them. In New York, a giant inflatable colon stands in the center of Times Square, displaying representations of Crohn's disease, colorectal polyps and different stages of colon cancer.

Many people may be embarrassed to talk about colon cancer with their doctor. Indeed, the tests may be a bit gross: a colonoscopy involves the insertion of a camera and tube into a person's anus, and the aforementioned FOBT involves checking a person's stool for invisible traces of blood. However, experts say that people need not be. The fifth most common cause of rectal bleeding, colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in the United States. In 2013, there will be a combined 140,000 cases of colorectal cancer in this country, according to the American Cancer Society.

However, attitudes about screening are changing. Many people are hearing that colonoscopies, 30-minute procedures, are not that bad. In fact, screening has palpable results. Often, screening can help polyps be found and treated before they turn into cancer. Screening allows cancers to be treated when they are easier to cure. Treatment itself has vastly improved over the last few decades. As a result, 90 percent of patients with stage 1 colon cancer are cured. Indeed, there are currently over 1 million survivors of colorectal cancer living in the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends regular screenings for colorectal cancer after everyone turns 50. People with family histories of colorectal cancer, polyps or Crohn's disease should think about starting screening earlier.

Symptoms of colorectal cancer include bloody or irregular bowel movements and persistent stomach pain.

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