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Health - DoctorColorectal cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer in Massachusetts, so it’s important to understand the risks, symptoms, and ways to prevent it. The Department of Public Health (DPH) is working to reduce cancer rates in the Commonwealth by spreading awareness and supporting public health initiatives. Learn how to reduce your chances of developing this disease and get screened if you’re 50 or older.

Colorectal Cancer Facts

Here’s some basic information you should know about colorectal cancer:

  • Most types of colorectal cancer start as non-cancerous polyps on the lining of the colon or rectum that can be removed, preventing cancer in many cases.
  • Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in Massachusetts.
  • The disease is found in both men and women.
  • If colorectal cancer is found and treated early, about 90 percent of patients are still alive five years later.
  • If you are 50 or older, you are at risk.

Know the Risk Factors

A person’s chance of developing colorectal cancer increases steadily with age. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 90 percent of people diagnosed with colorectal cancer are 50 or older.

However, you may need to start screening earlier if you have additional risk factors, including:

  • Conditions related to colorectal cancer such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD);
  • A family or personal medical history of colorectal cancer and polyp formation, or a personal history of breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancers;
  • A diet high in red meat or low in fruits and vegetables; or
  • Personal health factors such as heavy alcohol consumption, smoking, and obesity.

Get Tested for Colorectal Cancer

You can prevent colorectal cancer by getting screened regularly. If you have no risk factors other than age, Massachusetts Health Quality Partners (MHQP) recommends that you get your first colorectal cancer screening at age 50. Two common testing methods are:

  • At-Home Stool Test — Use a stool kit to test yourself for colon cancer at home. This screening method, known as a fecal occult blood test (FOBT) or fecal immunochemical test (FIT), looks for hidden blood in your stool that could be an early sign of colorectal cancer.
  • Colonoscopy — During a colonoscopy, a doctor uses a thin, soft tube with a tiny camera to look for and remove polyps in the colon.

Talk to your doctor about which test is right for you, when you should start screening, and how frequently you should be tested.

Prevent Colorectal Cancer

Regardless of your current health, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing colorectal cancer:

  • Change Your Diet — Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day and no more than two servings of red meat a week.
  • Avoid Alcohol and Tobacco — Cap daily alcohol consumption (one drink per day for women and two per day for men) and quit smoking.
  • Stay Active and Healthy — Set aside 30 minutes daily for physical activity and maintain a healthy weight.

Know the Symptoms

According to the CDC, the symptoms of colorectal cancer include blood in stool, stomachaches or pains that don’t go away, and unexplained weight loss. If you or someone you know shows these symptoms, contact a doctor immediately.

However, you may not experience any symptoms, so regular screening is the best way to reduce your risk and catch colorectal cancer early.

Don’t let colorectal cancer affect you. Talk to your doctor about the disease and your screening options today.

What steps have you taken to reduce your risk of cancer? Share your story by commenting below or tweeting @MassGov.

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