Don’t sit on your symptoms

Don’t sit on your symptoms

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

The rate of advanced colorectal cancer diagnoses among young individuals is increasing at an alarming rate, and the disease is the second most common cause of cancer deaths nationwide. During Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in March experts at Parkland Health are raising awareness of the importance of early detection to save lives.

Black individuals are disproportionately affected, with the highest incidence rate of any racial or ethnic group in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society. Black individuals face a 20% higher likelihood of being diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Hispanic individuals have the lowest rates of screening, only 60% of individuals report being up to date on colorectal cancer screening, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

If you or a loved one receive a colorectal cancer diagnosis, Parkland’s Cancer Program is here to help, with resources for patients throughout their entire treatment journey.

“Cancer patients are faced with many obstacles and are very strong and resilient. It is important to have a good support system and take care of your mental health during and after treatment,” said Tam Lam, MPAS, PA-C, Medical Oncology Advanced Practice Provider at Parkland. “Our patient's caregivers also have an invaluable role that’s often overlooked. If you are a caregiver, make sure you prioritize your mental and physical health. Our team is here to support our patients and caregivers so that they do not feel alone.”

In the last few years, guidelines were updated to start routine colorectal cancer screening at 45 years old via a colonoscopy or an at-home stool-based test for average-risk individuals. If you have a history of any of the following, you may need to start screening earlier:

  • Individuals with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
  • A personal or family history of colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps.
  • A genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome).

Routine screening is important because you may not experience symptoms in the early stages of colon cancer. One easy way to screen for colorectal cancer is by using an at-home test called a Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT), which checks for blood in your stool (poop). Blood in your stool can be an early sign of colorectal cancer. You can get a FIT kit from your Parkland provider. You can do the test at home or in the clinic. If you complete the test at home, you can mail it back to Parkland in the envelope provided.

A colonoscopy may be necessary if results of your FIT test are abnormal.

A colonoscopy is a quick, outpatient procedure, performed under anesthesia that allows your Parkland provider to get a detailed look at the inside of your colon and rectum. A tube with a light and camera on the end of it will scan the inside of your colon and rectum to search for polyps (a small clump of cells that forms on the lining of the colon that can turn into cancer if untreated) or any other abnormalities. Polyps can often be removed if found during the colonoscopy and sent for lab testing.

You should talk to your doctor if you experience symptoms that last more than a few days like a change in how often you have a bowel movement or a change in what your stool looks, such as diarrhea, constipation or narrowing of your stool. Reach out to your provider about any sort of bleeding from your bottom, such as when you wipe after going to the bathroom, as well as blood in your stool (may look bright red, dark red or black). Additionally, tell your doctor if you are experiencing stomach pain, excessive cramping, if you feel overly tired or weak and if you are losing weight without trying to.

Your risk for developing colorectal cancer increases as you age. However, making certain lifestyle changes can help lower your colon cancer risk, including:

  • Eating a well-balanced diet that is primarily plant-based and limits red meat, processed meats, and foods high in fat and sugar.
  • Stopping or never starting tobacco use – including e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products such as dip or snuff.
  • Limiting alcohol.
  • Getting at least 30-minutes of physical activity daily.

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