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Health Matters: Colorectal cancer: Do you know the facts?

DR. ALLISON PRINZ
Guest columnist

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and with good reason: colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon or rectum) is the second most deadly type of cancer in the U.S., claiming the lives of more than 50,000 Americans a year.
The good news? More than half of these deaths can be prevented through regular screenings, and early detection significantly increases your odds of beating the cancer. As I tell my patients – and as is clearly the case with colorectal cancer – knowledge is power, and knowing the facts about cancer can save your life.
Understanding the risk factors and symptoms of colorectal cancer is a great first step. Adults over age 50, African-Americans, and those with a genetic history of colorectal cancer all have a greater risk of developing the disease. Smokers, diabetics, and those who eat a high-fat diet are also at increased risk. If you fall into one or more of these categories, early screenings should be of extra importance to you.
Screenings are also critical because most patients with colorectal cancer experience no symptoms of the disease until it is advanced. Symptoms of colorectal cancer include blood in or on the stool, unexplained weight loss, and stomach pain, aches or cramps that do not go away. If you experience any of these symptoms, be sure to see your doctor.
A colonoscopy is the typical screening method for colorectal cancer, and I urge my patients and everyone over 50 to receive regular screenings once every ten years. Colonoscopies are almost always able to catch cancer in its earliest stages, giving you a better chance to fight – and beat – the disease.
When it comes to treatment, surgery is the most common way to fight colorectal cancer. Depending on the stage and location of the tumor, different surgical methods are performed alone or in conjunction with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.
At Levine Cancer Institute-Lincolnton, where I see patients, we’re able to draw on the expertise of an elite network of Levine Cancer Institute physicians and locations across the Carolinas. With genetic testing for patients with a family history of colorectal cancer, innovative treatments such as minimally invasive robotic surgery, and survivorship resources to help patients recover and reclaim their lives after cancer, Levine Cancer Institute’s care is comprehensive.
It doesn’t take long to learn the facts of colorectal cancer, but the benefits can last a lifetime. And though cancer may be a battle, by knowing the enemy, you’re in the best place to win.
Dr. Allison Prinz is a medical oncologist and Internal Medicine specialist treating all types of cancer at Levine Cancer Institute -Lincolnton, located on the campus of CMC-Lincoln and part of Carolinas HealthCare System. For more information, visit www.carolinashealthcare.org or www.levinecancerinstitute.org.

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