Guest Column

Dr. Wanjun Bae, gastroenterologist

Providence Mission Hospital

Preliminary check-ups may save your life: March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

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Courtesy of Providence Mission Hospital Laguna Beach

Dr. Wanjun Bae

For many Americans, preparing for and then having a colonoscopy can cause feelings of fear and concern. But this procedure is an extremely important colorectal cancer detection tool. I have seen the number of patients diagnosed with early to late stages of colorectal cancer increase over the last several years – and many of these people are in their mid-to-late-30s.

According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosis in the United States and the second most common cause of cancer deaths. Men and women have similar colorectal cancer risks, which increase with age. Certain food and drink, like alcohol and red or processed lunch meats, can increase your overall colorectal cancer risk. People with inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, also have a higher colorectal cancer risk.

Although colonoscopies are recommended for people at 45, if you have a family history of colorectal cancer, it is important that you schedule early and regular screenings. Early intervention is key in preventing the spread of any cancer.

Adam Shock, a patient at the Leonard Cancer Institute at Providence Mission Hospital, was diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer at 38 years old. After receiving chemotherapy treatment, he is tumor free and an advocate for early screenings. Both Adam and I want everyone, especially people who are in their 20s and 30s, to know that no matter what stage you are diagnosed, there is always hope.

Listen to your body. If you notice any irregular change in your bowel habits, no matter how small, speak to a medical professional. Common colorectal cancer symptoms include losing weight without even trying, cramps, blood in your stool, diarrhea, constipation and pain in your stomach. It’s important that you schedule an appointment immediately with your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.

If colorectal cancer runs in your family, it is important to quit smoking and follow a healthier diet. Try incorporating more plant-based options, along with plenty of vegetables and fruits, into your weekly meals. A regular exercise routine and a reduction in the amount of alcohol that you drink can also help to decrease your colorectal cancer risk. Maintaining a healthy weight it also key.

This Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, I encourage you to schedule a preliminary checkup, along with an annual stool test or colonoscopy. And, if colorectal cancer runs in your family, talk to your doctor about when to begin screening and what test is right for you.

Dr. Wanjun Bae is a gastroenterologist with Providence Mission Hospital.

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