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Opinion: Talk to Your Doctor About Colorectal Cancer Screenings

"Colorectal cancer is preventable, beatable and treatable when caught early," congressman's wife says.

The following is a letter from Kathy Fitzpatrick, wife of Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Bucks).

Imagine that there was something you could do to prevent a cancer that kills nearly 50,000 people every year.  Would you do it? The answer to that question would seem an obvious "YES!"  However, more than 40 percent of adults - 4 out of 10 - fail to have screening tests that prevent or detect early the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States - colorectal cancer.

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and the perfect time to help turn that statistic around.  This year, more than 143,000 new cases and 51,000 deaths from colorectal cancer are expected nationally .  Many of these cases could be prevented.  New research that tracked patients for more than 20 years showed the death rate from colorectal cancer was cut by more than half for those who had a colonoscopy and whose doctors removed precancerous growths.

Effective screening tests - including the gold standard, colonoscopy - identify the presence of cancer early, when treatment is most effective.  More than 90 percent of patients with cancer confined to the colon or rectum live five years after their diagnosis.  Regular screening is especially important because the earliest stages of colorectal cancer occur in people with no known risk factors for the disease.  These screening tests can also detect pre-cancerous polyps (grape-like growths on the lining of the colon or rectum), which can easily be removed before they ever become cancer. 

People who are 50 or older should be screened.  If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, polyps, or inflammatory bowel disease; if you are African American, are obese, have diabetes, smoke or are a heavy alcohol user, you may need to be screened younger.  And do the things we all know we should do: Lead a healthy lifestyle by maintaining a healthy weight through a good diet and exercising regularly.  Do not smoke, and if you use alcohol, do so in moderation.

Colorectal cancer is preventable, beatable and treatable when caught early.  This March, commemorate Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month by talking to your health care professional about screening options and ways to reduce your risk.  Encourage those close to you to do the same.  When it comes to your health, you never want to be too late.  For more information about colorectal cancer prevention and early detection, visit www.preventcancer.org. 

Kathy Fitzpatrick is a member of the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention program of the Prevent Cancer Foundation and the wife of Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick.     

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