Smile for the Birdie

Welcome to March, the month when winter turns to spring at last and our thoughts turn to – Colorectal Cancer Awareness! Not what you were going for, eh? I know it’s kind of gross to think about what could be happening in there and back there. If only we could simply ignore that part of our plumbing and hope for the best.

But alas we cannot. Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of non-skin cancer in men and women, behind prostate and lung cancer for men, and breast and lung cancer for women. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. after lung cancer. While the rates of colon cancer incidence and death among people age 50 and older are decreasing (yay!), its incidence is increasing among younger people. Family history is a key risk factor, but others include excessive alcohol use, obesity, physical inactivity, cigarette smoking, and possibly diet.

To reduce your risk of colorectal cancer, you should:

  • Be physically active for at least 30 minutes five times or more per week;
  • Maintain a healthy weight and waist size;
  • Don’t smoke;
  • Limit alcohol use (two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women);
  • Eat high-fiber foods like fruit, greens, beans, and whole grains;
  • Eat less red meat and cut out processed meat;
  • Get screened.

The good news about colorectal cancer is that it is highly treatable when caught early – 90% of cases are preventable and treatable when detected early. Screening options include the fecal occult blood test, which entails testing a stool sample for blood which might indicate bleeding somewhere along the gastrointestinal tract; additional tests would be required to determine the source of any bleeding detected. (Despite sounding vaguely Goth and possibly cool, “occult” just means “hidden”. Sorry it’s not more interesting.)

Another type of screen is the fecal immunochemical test (FIT), which tests for blood in the lower gastrointestinal tract. Mercy Health Clinic has made the FIT screen a standard practice for all patients aged 50 to 75, and can refer patients for a free colonoscopy if necessary. Your support of MHC helps keep these services available for uninsured adults in Montgomery County.

Speaking of colonoscopy, perhaps your own doctor has recommended you get one. Now, don’t make that face. Many people put off getting that first colonoscopy, dreading the notoriously fidgety prep and positively clenching at the idea of someone putting a camera up there.  Seriously, relax. Sure, the prep is a pain in the, um, neck, but it’s nothing you can’t handle, I promise. As for the camera, get over yourself. You’re not Kanye, for Pete’s sake, and your gastroenterologist has seen it all before anyway. And remember: screening for colorectal cancer is a walk in the park compared to being treated for colorectal cancer.

You can learn more about colorectal cancer at

— Pam Saussy, Board Member

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