Healthy Tahoe: Colorectal cancer screenings can save your life

William Shepard, DO

Colorectal cancer, malignant cells found in the colon or rectum, is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Unfortunately, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, preventative screenings for colorectal cancer are at all time lows.

William Shepherd

The American Cancer Society estimates 140,000 colorectal cancer cases and about 50,000 deaths from colorectal cancer occur each year. The number of deaths due to colorectal cancer has decreased from years prior, which can be attributed to increased screening, polyp removal, and improvements in cancer treatment.

The symptoms of colorectal cancer may resemble other conditions such as infections, hemorrhoids, and inflammatory bowel disease, however, it is possible to have colon cancer and not have any symptoms.

Symptoms include a change in bowel habits such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool that lasts for more than a few days, rectal bleeding, dark stools, or blood in the stool, cramping or gnawing stomach pain, decreased appetite, vomiting, unintended weight loss, weakness and fatigue, and a feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by doing so.

Any of these symptoms should warrant a visit to your care provider, especially for ages 50 and older or those with a personal or family history of the disease (always consult your health care provider for a diagnosis).

Although the exact cause of colorectal cancer is not known, it may be possible to lower your risk of colorectal cancer with lifestyle modifications. You can lower your risk by eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain foods while limiting red and processed meats, exercising appropriately, even small amounts on a regular basis, and avoiding excess alcohol consumption.

Perhaps most important to the prevention of colorectal cancer is having screening tests at recommended ages. Screening may find colorectal polyps that can be removed before they have a chance to become cancerous.

Because some colorectal cancers cannot be prevented, finding them early is the best way to improve the chance of successful treatment, and reduce the number of deaths caused by colorectal cancer. Speak with your care provider about colorectal cancer screening.

March is Colorectal Awareness Month. Contact your primary care provider to schedule important health screenings including a colorectal cancer screening. Dr. William Shepard is a surgeon with Barton General Surgery, specializing in minimally invasive surgical procedures such as da Vinci Xi robotic surgery, and laparoscopy. Learn more about Barton General Surgery at or by calling 530-543-5691.

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