March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month
One of the great joys of my life was becoming a grandparent.�There are few experiences that come close to holding your child's child.

In thinking about this, I realized, for the first time, the loss my own grandfather must have felt to know that he would not have the opportunity to hold his first grandchild, as he was dying from colorectal cancer.�As his first grandchild, I also realize not only his loss, but my loss in never having known my mother's father.�

Today, colorectal cancer continues to be a threat not only to those of us who are enjoying grandchildren, but to younger people as well.�As I write this, I think of three wonderful, young women in my own life.�All who have children in elementary school and are living with the challenges of colorectal cancer.�

This year, an estimated 55,000 men and women will die from a disease they don't want to talk about. In South Dakota alone, it is estimated there will be 480 new colorectal cancer cases and 180 deaths from the disease in 2006. Worse, in many cases, the disease could have been prevented.�Colorectal Cancer � cancer of the colon and rectum � is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. The disease is 90 percent preventable through screening, and 90 percent treatable when caught early.�

March 2006 marks the seventh annual National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and provides an opportunity for everyone to learn more about colorectal cancer � how to prevent, diagnose and treat it.

Men and women at average risk should be screened for colorectal cancer when they turn 50. Those with a family history should be screened earlier. Unfortunately, despite the availability of highly effective screening tests, colorectal cancer screening lags far behind screenings for other cancers such as mammography for breast cancer and PSAs for prostate cancer.�And, unlike those, colorectal cancer screening can prevent the disease.

Most colorectal cancer develops from polyps, which are grape-like growths on the lining of the colon and rectum. Screening can detect and remove polyps before they become cancerous.��

Healthy lifestyle choices are also crucial in the prevention of colorectal cancer. Maintain a healthy weight and exercise most days of the week. If you don't smoke, don't start, and if you do smoke, stop.

If you are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, find out about your treatment options.�When caught in its earliest, most treatable stages, colorectal cancer has a 90 percent survival rate.�

One of the best weapons against this disease is dialogue. Have a conversation with your health care provider about your risks, screening options and steps you can take to prevent this disease. Do it for yourself and for your family. Together, we can make a difference and someday, colorectal cancer will be eliminated altogether.�But first, we have to talk about it.

For more information about colorectal cancer and National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, visit the Cancer Research and Prevention's Web site���

Barbara B. Johnson is on the executive council of the Congressional Families Action for Cancer Awareness, a program of the Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation, and the wife of U.S. Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD).

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