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March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month: Five Tips for Prevention

While March marks the beginning of spring, it is also known as National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Colorectal cancer is currently the second leading cause of death from cancer in the United States with an estimated 135,430 cases in 2017. Although new cases and the number of deaths from colorectal cancer have started to decline over the years, new cases in adults under the age of 50 have been slowly increasing since 1998. While individual risk can vary, there are a number of ways to reduce the risk of developing and dying from the disease. Here are five ways to do just that.

1. Stop smoking

Kicking the habit is the best thing you can do for your health. Not only does this lower your risk of developing colorectal cancer, quitting also significantly lowers the risk of all cancers and a number of other diseases, including cardiovascular disease. While quitting isn’t easy, there are a number of resources available to help you stick to your plan.

2. Diet

A diet full of whole foods and low in excess fats and sugars is the cornerstone of good health and disease prevention. When it comes to colorectal cancer, increasing consumption of vegetables, fruits and whole grains may help lower the risk of developing the disease, and multiple studies have shown limiting red and processed meats can also decrease the risk. In addition, avoiding excess alcohol may help reduce your risk and also improve your all-around physical and mental health. Talk with your doctor about the best nutritional plan for your body and personal risk factors.

3. Exercise

Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of getting and dying from colorectal disease. Combined with a balanced diet, physical activity plays a key part in maintaining a healthy weight. Moreover, physical inactivity and having more belly fat can actually increase the chance of developing colon cancer. To reap the full benefits of physical activity, experts recommend getting 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise five days a week and strength training two days a week. Remember that every little bit helps. Try taking three 10-minute walks throughout the day or incorporate strength training exercises into your daily routine if you can’t commit to a full workout every day. Keep in mind that maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active and eating a healthy diet reduces the risk of CRC by more than 37 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.

4. Know your individual risk

The average risk for developing colorectal cancer is one in 20, however, this risk varies depending on additional risk factors. For example, those with a family history of colon cancer and other colon problems, particularly in first-degree relatives, are two to three times more likely to develop the disease. In addition, those with conditions such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, precancerous polyps or type 2 diabetes are also predisposed to developing colorectal cancer. It is important to understand your individual risk factors and discuss these with your care provider to determine the best screening for you.

5. Screening

Colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer, and, if found early, the most treatable. Colorectal tumors grow very slowly, and there are many excellent screening methods that can detect them in their early stages when treatment has a high success rate. Early detection significantly increases the chance of survival, and significantly reduces the cost and severity of treatment.

Last year, the U.S. Multi-Society Task Force, an expert panel comprised of three renowned gastroenterology groups, released updated guidelines on colorectal cancer screening. The task force ranked tests into three tiers according to the strength of the recommendation for average-risk people.

Tier 1 includes two cornerstone tests:
  • Colonoscopy every 10 years or annual fecal immunochemical testing (FIT). Colonoscopy is highly sensitive for cancer and allows a patient to be diagnosed and treated in a single session. FIT must be repeated every year, beginning at age 50 for average-risk people and 45 for African Americans, due to higher CRC incidence rates. It is non-invasive, lower cost and performs very well in preventing cancer deaths when repeated annually, according to the task force. For these reasons, FIT is an attractive option for large health plans with organized screening programs, which also have systems in place to ensure annual testing.
Tier 2 options include: CT colonography every five years
  • FIT-fecal DNA every three years
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every five to 10 years
Tier 3 options include:
  • Capsule colonoscopy every five years

While the benefits of regular screening have been proven, many people avoid colonoscopies because they don’t want to go through the bowel prep, won’t make the time for the procedure, or don’t think it is important. That’s why it’s important for health plans and providers to offer more than one screening method. While the best CRC test is the one that gets taken, the simplest, most convenient method is FIT screening.

To learn how your organization can implement a CRC screening program and improve the health of your members or employees, contact BioIQ at (888) 818-1594 or

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