March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and experts Tenaya Jackman from the American Cancer Society and Dr. Traci Murakami visited GMH to talk about how colorectal cancer is usually easier to treat when found early, beginning at age 45 people of average risk should start regular screening.

Q: How common is colorectal cancer and what are the warning signs and risk factors?
A: Colorectal cancer is the second most common cancer in men and women combined. Nationally, colorectal cancer will have 145,000 new cases this year and 51,000 deaths.  For Hawaii, we will have approximately 620 new cases this year, and 230 deaths. The lifetime risk for developing colorectal cancer is 1 in 24. Warning signs include rectal bleeding, blood in stool, change in bowel habits that last for more than a few days, or cramping in the abdomen. See your doctor right away if you have those symptoms.  Risk factors include obesity, physical inactivity, alcohol use, smoking, type-2 diabetes, personal history of polyps or radiation to the abdomen, diets high in red or processed meats and low in consumption of fruits, veggies, and whole grain fiber. 30% of new colorectal cancer patients have a family history of the disease.

Q: Can we prevent colorectal cancer?
A: The exact cause of colorectal cancer is not known, but prevention and early detection are both possible because most colorectal cancers develop from a polyp. Early detection tests can help find polyps, which can be removed, thus lowering a person's cancer risk. Risk can be further reduced by 1) regular physical activity, 2) achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, 3) limiting intake of high saturated fat foods, especially red meat and processed meats, 4) not smoking, 5) limiting alcohol intake, 6) eating plenty of fruits and veggies, and whole grain foods.  Screening is the best was to prevent cancer or find it early when it's most treatable.  Prevention and early detection saves lives!!!

Q:  There are a hundred kinds of cancer, and only a few have early detection tests available.  What are the tests available for colorectal cancer?
A:  Colorectal cancer is usually easier to treat when found early.  Beginning at age 45 (not 50), people of average risk (no family history) should start regular screening.  Screening can be done in a variety of ways:    1) with a sensitive test that looks for signs of cancer in a person's stool—a stool-based test, or 2) with an exam that looks at the colon and rectum (a visual exam).   The stool blood exams need to happen repeatedly, usually every year, and can be done at home.  The visual exam of colonoscopy is usually done every ten years if no polyps are detected; the  flexible sigmoidoscopy is usually every five years. Talk to your doctor about which test is right for you.  The best test is the test that you will get done!!!!

For more information - Tenaya Jackman, American Cancer Society:
(808) 595-7500. Or visit for more info on colorectal cancer.