National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

Colorectal Cancer Awareness

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month!

In 2021, an estimated 149,500 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Bringing awareness to colorectal cancer (CRC) is pivotal, as, globally, it is the second leading cause of death among cancers and the 16th leading cause of death among all diseases. While these numbers are sobering, progressive action is taking place.

Each year, the first Friday in March is Dress in Blue Day! This day was organized by the Colorectal Cancer Alliance. The idea is to honour those impacted and support the work being done by wearing blue and talking about colon cancer – specifically symptoms, screening, and prevention.

Awareness begins with understanding what colorectal cancer is.


What is Colorectal Cancer?

Diagram of the colon and rectum

The large intestine is made up of the colon and rectum, crucial to the proper processing of waste from the digestive system. Colorectal cancer occurs when the cells in the inner lining of the colon or rectum change or grow uncontrollably, forming tumours. They often begin as noncancerous growths called polyps, which should be removed or treated before they become cancerous. Cancer can range from Stage 0 where cancer cells are only present in the inner lining, to growing through the muscular layers of the intestine and lymph nodes in stages 2 and 3, to finally reaching stage 4, where the cancer has spread to distant sites.


Who is affected by Colorectal Cancer?

The common consideration of colorectal cancer as an older person’s disease is currently undergoing re-evaluation in today’s society, in large part due to a prominent figure in popular culture passing away in August of 2020.

Best known for the title role of King T’Challa in Marvel’s “Black Panther” and baseball legend Jackie Robinson in “42,” the sudden death of actor Chadwick Boseman at the age of 43 has reinvigorated discussions about the rising incidence of colon cancer among individuals aged younger than 50 years. Despite living an active, healthy lifestyle fit for a Marvel superhero, Boseman was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer at the age of 39, and privately fought the disease for four years. Experts believe that lack of awareness is a big contributing factor to the disease not being caught in younger people until it has advanced to the later stages where chances of survival are much lower.

As of 2020, among those under 50 years old, the tumour incidence rate increased by approximately 2% annually. A 2013 study found sharp increases in colorectal cancers in adults in their 20s and 30s. Rates have been dropping steadily for people born between 1890 and 1950, but have been increasing for every generation born since 1950. Millennials and Generation Xers have double the incidence rates of colon cancer and quadruple the rates of rectal cancer in comparison.

In order to fight against this rising trend and reduce the number of cases and deaths, it’s imperative to address stigmas surrounding the disease, be proactive and aware of the warning signs, and to get a second or third opinion of you believe your doctor might be missing something. In fact, guidelines have recently changed to advise people to start regularly screening for colorectal cancer at age 45, five years younger than the age that was previously recommended. Those with a family history of colorectal cancer or inflammatory bowel disease should begin even earlier. The baseline is if a first-degree relative (ex: parent or sibling) is diagnosed with colon cancer at 50, you should be screened at 40 years old, or 10 years earlier than their diagnosis.


Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer:

Common symptoms indicating colorectal cancer may be benign, or be caused by other medical conditions, which is why the diagnosis is often missed in young adults. They can include:

  • Blood in the stool / stools that are darker in colour: Blood released from the tumour can look darker than normal due to being broken down in the intestine.
  • Digestive issues:
    • Unexplained weight loss
    • Unexplained loss of appetite / fatigue
    • Persistent abdominal cramps / pain
    • Pain from gas
    • Lower back pain
    • Bloating / discomfort
    • Persistent changes in bathroom habits:
      • diarrhea
      • constipation
      • narrower stools
      • incomplete bowel movements

Many of these symptoms tend to be brushed off or misdiagnosed, which is why National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month is so important for normalization. People tend to feel uncomfortable or reticent about disclosing personal bowel issues, which leads to delayed diagnosis. Experts recommend treating bowel symptoms the way we would a persistent cough or noticeable rash and bringing it up with your personal physician and loved ones. If you notice a change, recommendations include taking pictures for your doctor, and keeping a journal where you note what’s going on with your eating habits, diet, stool, and other changes in your body.

When symptoms are enduring, it’s vital to avoid delays and be screened. In fact, the decrease in rates of CRC among people 65 and older is being attributed to more regular screening. Doctors can order diagnostic tests where they examine the rectum and colon (sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy), as well as non-invasive lab tests that examine stool samples for the presence of blood and DNA markers.  Colon cancer is one of the most treatable cancers if it’s found early; when caught in stage 1 chances of survival are in the mid-90’s.

Once you have been screened and officially diagnosed, a very successful treatment involves a colostomy, where, after the cancerous tissue is surgically removed, a surgical opening, or stoma, is created to connect the colon to the abdominal surface so waste can exit the body and be collected in a pouch. This waste is collected in a pouch worn by the patient. This can be temporary, if the tissue simply needs time to heal before two ends are re-attached, but it may be permanent when complete removal is required.

Here at Nightingale Medical Supplies we provide all sorts of solutions for those who have a colostomy, including all ostomy pouches, flanges, and accessories necessary for your complete support.