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March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

Colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon or rectum. It is equally common in men and women.

With the recommended screenings, this cancer can be prevented (by removing polyps before they become cancerous) or detected early, when it can be more easily and successfully treated.

Who is most at risk?

• Men and women age 50 and older.

• The average age at diagnosis is 72.

• People who use tobacco, are obese or are sedentary.

• People with a personal or family history of colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps.

• People with a personal or family history of inflammatory disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease.

• People with a family history of colorectal cancer.

How can I reduce my risks?

• Be physically active and exercise regularly.

• Maintain a healthy weight.

• Eat a diet rich in fiber, fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, and whole grains.

• Consume calcium-rich foods such as milk.

• Limit red meat consumption and avoid processed meats.

• Don't smoke.

• Don't drink alcohol in excess.

If you are at an average risk for colorectal cancer, start having regular screenings at age 50. If you are at greater risk, you may want to begin at an earlier age.

Fecal occult blood tests can detect tiny amounts of blood in the stool. If this test detects blood, other tests are needed to find the source of the blood.

The sigmoidoscopy checks inside your rectum and the lower part of the colon. A colonoscopy examines inside the rectum and entire colon.

What are the symptoms of this disease? Early stages of colorectal cancer do not usually have symptoms. Advanced disease may cause:

• Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool.

• Change in bowel habits or stools that are narrower than usual.

• Stomach discomfort, diarrhea, constipation or feeling that the bowel does not empty.

• Weight loss for no reason, constant fatigue and/or vomiting.

Treatment usually involves surgery. When the cancer has spread, chemotherapy or radiation therapy is given also.

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The Caregiver Support Group meets the second Tuesday of each month from 2 to 4 p.m. and the fourth Monday of each month from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at First Lutheran Church in Alexandria. Come and join us! Call Mary at (320) 762-3047 for more information.

Medicare. If you are a baby boomer and Medicare is in your future, join Deb Shea on March 18 at 9 a.m. in the Douglas County Courthouse basement computer lab. She will answer questions regarding Medicare Part A, B, C and D. Call her at (320) 762-2974 for more information.