Healthy Tahoe: Preventative 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 and unfortunately, due to COVID-19, preventative screenings for colorectal cancer have plummeted.

Dr. William Shepard

The American Cancer Society estimates 140,000 colorectal cancer cases, and about 50,000 deaths from colorectal cancer, occur each year. Though, the number of deaths due to colorectal cancer has decreased, 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 also possible to have colon cancer and not have any symptoms. People who have any of the following symptoms should check with their doctors, especially if they are over 50 years old or have a personal or family history of the disease (always consult your health care provider for a diagnosis):

●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


●Unintended weight loss

●Weakness and fatigue

●A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by doing so

Although the exact cause of colorectal cancer is not known, it may be possible to lower your risk of colorectal cancer. It is important to manage the risk factors you can control; eating more fruits, vegetables and whole-grain foods, and limiting red and processed meats, plus exercising appropriately, even small amounts on a regular basis, can be helpful. Avoiding excess alcohol intake may also lower your risk.

Perhaps most important to the prevention of colorectal cancer is having screening tests at appropriate 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.

Dr. William Shepard is a surgeon with Barton General Surgery. March is Colorectal Awareness Month, contact your primary care provider to schedule your health screenings. Learn more about Barton General Surgery at or by calling 530-543-5691.

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