Colorectal cancer usually starts with polyps in the colon or rectum, abnormal but benign growths that if left untreated can turn into cancer. A painless test called a colonoscopy, performed under sedation, can help find and remove the polyps. In a colonoscopy, the doctor uses a thin, flexible, lighted tube to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and cancer.

The recommended guidelines call for screenings to begin at age 50 and continue every 10 years – as more than 90 percent of people with colorectal cancer are first diagnosed after age 50, with 72 the average age of diagnosis. More frequent tests may be recommended for those with a history of polyps or who have a higher risk for the disease. This would include those with a family history of colorectal cancer or a genetic disposition, a condition (such as Crohn’s) that causes inflammation of the colon, and cigarette smokers.

Some studies suggest that diets high in fat (especially animal fat) and low in calcium, folate and fiber may also increase the risk. Yet, the most effective way to reduce the risk is by following the guidelines and having colonoscopy screenings.

Symptoms of colorectal cancer are often not apparent. However, some outward signs to watch for include:

– blood in or on your stool
– persistent stomach aches or cramps
– constipation or diarrhea
– loss of weight

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– John D. Miller is the founder/owner of Home Care Partners, LLC, a Massachusetts business providing private duty, personalized in-home assistance and companion care services to those needing help in daily activities and household functions. He can be reached at: (781) 378-2164; email: jdmiller@homecarepartners.biz ; or online at: www.homecarepartnersma.com

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