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Understanding The Challenges Of Colorectal Cancer

March is colorectal cancer awareness month.

Colorectal cancers are one of the most common cancers in the United States. More than 4% of people will develop one of these cancers during their lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society.

It can be difficult for anyone to talk about a cancer diagnosis, but it’s even more difficult when that cancer is in a part of the human body that we’d simply prefer not to discuss. March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month — and that reluctance to talk about it is part of what makes awareness so important.

“For most people, it’s the [colonoscopy] preparation that’s the barrier to getting this done,” says Dr. Carrie Peterson, assistant professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin in the Division of Colorectal Surgery. “They don’t want to spend an evening in the bathroom, cleaning out their colon so everyone can get a good look with the scope the next day. To be honest, that’s really the worst part about it.”

Peterson says treating the rectum poses many challenges because of its location within the body.

“The bladder is there, [and] if you're a woman there’s the vagina and uterus. There’s bones from the tailbone, sacrum, and hips that surround the rectum almost entirely," she notes. "Treating it is a lot different cause it’s a lot harder to get to for surgical treatments."

So how do you reduce the risks for these kinds of cancer? “It sounds kinda hoaky, but the best recommendations are sorta what your mom would say," says Peterson.

Peterson suggests following these tips for better colon health:

  • Eat more high fiber foods and whole grains.
  • Eat fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Don’t smoke tobacco.
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Joy Powers joined WUWM January 2016 as a producer for Lake Effect. Before then, she was a director and producer for Afternoon Shift, on WBEZ-fm Chicago Public Radio.
Trapper Schoepp
Trapper Schoepp became Lake Effect's assistant producer in August 2019.