by Susan Hanna

Every week, 425 Canadians are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and 175 will die from it.

Yet, if detected and treated early, the cure rate for colorectal cancer is 90 per cent.

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and laparoscopic surgeon Dr. Eric Bigelow, who performs surgeries at the Almonte General Hospital, answers some frequently asked questions about the disease.

 Who is at risk for colorectal cancer?  

“Anyone who has polyps in their colon is at risk, because these polyps can become cancerous,” explains Dr. Bigelow.

“Those who have a family history of the disease are also at risk.”

 What are the symptoms?  

“Symptoms include a change in bowel habits, blood in the stool or black stool and abdominal pain that does not go away,” says Dr. Bigelow.

 Who should be screened?  

“Screening should begin at the age of 50 for people who have no symptoms,” advises Dr. Bigelow.

“However, if you have a first-degree relative who has been diagnosed with colon cancer, you should begin screening when you are 10 years younger than the age your relative was when diagnosed.”

For example, if your relative was diagnosed at age 45, you should be screened at 35.

 How does the screening work?  

“The best screening test is a colonoscopy,” says Dr. Bigelow.

A colonoscopy permits a doctor to look inside your entire large intestine, from the lowest part, the rectum, all the way up through the colon to the lower end of the small intestine.

A colonoscopy also provides the ability to biopsy polyps in the colon, make a diagnosis and treat colorectal cancer at an early stage.

Treatments for colorectal cancer include surgery and chemotherapy.

 How can you lower your risk?  

“A diet high in fibre can help,” says Dr. Bigelow.

 “It is also important to watch for any symptoms and get screened. This is a very treatable disease if detected early.”