March marks National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and Barry Stein, President of the Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada and a colon cancer survivor, wants Canadians to know that the goal of the campaign is to generate widespread awareness about this disease and to encourage people to learn more about how to reduce their risk of the disease through regular screening and by leading a healthy lifestyle.

“Few Canadians know that regular screening can help prevent colorectal cancer by detecting pre-cancerous polyps,” says Barry Stein. “Our suffering and burden from colorectal cancer in this country is among the highest in the world. Screening is also critical to detect the disease in its earliest, most curable stages and several research studies show that colorectal cancer death rates could be reduced by between 15 and 33 percent if screening takes place,” Barry adds.

In 2002, the Canadian Cancer Society estimated that about 6,600 Canadians would die from colorectal cancer making it the second leading cause of death from cancer in this country. Based on these numbers, screening could mean that between 990 (15 percent) and 1,980 (33 percent) of these deaths could be prevented.

To lower your risk, there are five important steps that you should take, including:

Getting regular colorectal cancer screening tests every two years after the age of 50. If there is a personal or family history of the disease, colorectal polyps, inflammatory bowel disease, or breast, ovarian or endometrial cancer then you should talk to your doctor about earlier screening tests;

Eating a low-fat diet high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes (beans, lentils, nuts);

Exercising 20 minutes, three to four days a week (moderate walking, gardening, or climbing stairs all can help to reduce your risk);

Drinking in moderation or not at all; and

No smoking.

If you have been diagnosed with colorectal cancer, you need to know that there are various treatments available such as surgery and radiation (in the earlier stages of the disease). In the later stages of the disease, chemotherapy options such as Camptosar, Xeloda, or 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) are usually used to fight the cancer when it has spread to other areas of the body. Talk to your team of health care providers about the right treatment regimen for you. In addition, there are support groups set up by the Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada that can help you and your family learn more about the disease and cope with the various feelings and emotions you may experience following your diagnosis.

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