Speak out! – And help to eliminate the stigma this Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

Ignoring a gut feeling can be fatal. But ignoring physical changes and discomfort in your colon and stomach can be just as dangerous. Often the persistent symptoms we push aside or ignore can be a sign or precursor to colorectal cancer.

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month (CCAM) – an initiative that is held every year across the world, and specifically observed by South Africa during the month of April. For the past five years, Be Cancer Aware (BCA), a cancer information hub that aims to increase awareness around various forms of cancer, has hosted their “Ignoring a Gut Feeling” campaign, and it is once again taking place this March and April.

Awareness goes a long way

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer and cause of cancer-related death worldwide[i], and is the fourth top cancer amongst both men and women in South Africa[ii]. Despite this high statistic, very few people have heard about colorectal cancer or know much about it.

As the word “colorectal” implies, this form of cancer occurs in the colon (large intestine) or rectum[iii].  Due to the area of the cancer, many patients with colorectal cancer are ashamed of their diagnosis. Be Cancer Aware would like to change this.

Through the “Ignoring a Gut Feeling” campaign, Be Cancer Aware aims to highlight some of the signs and symptoms of this disease, in an effort to get more people talking about this little-known cancer, and to encourage the general public to consult a medical practitioner if they are experiencing any persistent gut feelings.

By talking more openly about this form of cancer, and encouraging patients and survivors to do the same, the campaign hopes to contribute towards removing the stigma and shame attached to the topic.

Early detection is key

While this disease is typically found in persons over the age of 50, colorectal cancer can affect anyone, regardless of gender or social status[iv]. The risk of being diagnosed begins at age 50 and increases as you get older. Risk factors include poor diet, lack of exercise, obesity, family history of colorectal cancer and age[v].

Common symptoms include a change in bowel habits, blood in the stool, cramps or bloating, pain in the abdomen or rectum, unexplained weight loss and the feeling of not having emptied ones bowels properly[vi].

Dr Georgia Demetriou, oncologist at Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre says:  “Don’t put off screenings because of what you might have heard about the procedure, or fear that you might have cancer. If we can detect this type of cancer early, remission and a cure is possible. Although the area in which this cancer occurs can be a sensitive topic, speaking out about colorectal cancer is important. It helps spread awareness about this form of cancer, which isn’t discussed very often in the public arena, and it highlights the fact that nobody is exempt from developing this disease. Listen to your body – if you think you may be experiencing signs or symptoms of colorectal cancer, make sure your physician or doctor books you for a screening sooner rather than later.”

Be Cancer Aware encourages people to reduce their risk of colorectal cancer through regular screenings and examinations from the age of 50. Regular screenings are the only way to detect and prevent cancer, and early detection is vital for a better prognosis[vii].

For more information, or to show your support for Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, visit the Be Cancer Aware Facebook group.

[i] Coetzee, E. 2014. Continuing Medical Education. [online] Available at: http://www.cmej.org.za/index.php/cmej/article/view/3010 [Accessed: 27 Feb 2014].

[ii] Health24. 2012. South Africa: 78% increase in cancer by 2030. [online] Available at: http://www.health24.com/Medical/Cancer/Facts-and-figures/South-Africa-78-increase-in-cancer-by-2030-20120721 [Accessed: 27 Feb 2014].

[iii] Herbst, M. 2013. Fact Sheet on Colorectal Cancer. [online] Available at: http://www.cansa.org.za/files/2013/Fact-Sheet-Colorectal-Cancer-July-2013.pdf [Accessed: 27 Feb 2014].

[iv] Stopcoloncancernow.com. 2014. Stop Colon Cancer Now: Myths vs. Facts. [online] Available at: http://stopcoloncancernow.com/about-your-health/common-misconceptions [Accessed: 27 Feb 2014].

[v] Roche. n.d. Colorectal cancer: A guide for journalists on colorectal cancer and its treatment. [online] Available at: http://www.roche.com/med-colorectal-cancer.pdf [Accessed: 27 Feb 2014].

[vi] Herbst, M. 2013.

[vii] National Cancer Institute. 2014. Tests to Detect Colorectal Cancer and Polyps. [online] Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/detection/colorectal-screening [Accessed: 27 Feb 2014].