Healthy lifestyle choices and screening crucial in fighting colorectal cancer

The International Agency for Research on Cancer recognises March as colorectal cancer awareness month. Colorectal cancer is the third commonest cancer worldwide, and it has been the second most common cancer seen at the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centres (SKMCH&RC) in Lahore and Peshawar between 1994 and 2020. Healthy lifestyle habits and screening play an important role in prevention and early detection of colorectal cancer. In order to raise awareness on this subject, SKMCH&RC marked a “Dress in Blue Day” when the hospital staff showed their support for this mission by wearing blue, which is the colour that represents colorectal cancer awareness worldwide.

On this occasion, Dr Shafqat Mehmood, Consultant Gastroenterologist at SKMCH&RC, Lahore said, “We can fight colorectal cancer by empowering individuals with information that can potentially save their lives. We need to educate the public on making lifestyle choices that can lower their risk of this cancer and inform them about screening options for early detection and effective treatment.”

Colorectal cancer, also known as bowel cancer, often develops as abnormal growths in the colon or rectum. It may take years before these growths become cancerous and for this reason, screening can play an important role in detecting these polyps so these can be removed in a timely manner before turning into cancer. Screening is performed to detect cancer before signs and symptoms develop. In the USA, the US Preventive Services Task Force and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that asymptomatic adults with average risk between ages 50 to 75 should be screened for colorectal cancer. However, in Pakistan, Dr Shafqat Mahmood warns about early onset of colorectal cancer in young adults, well below the age of 50 years, due to a shift towards westernized lifestyle, including a diet of highly processed foods. Individuals can take responsibility for their health and take steps to reduce their chances of getting colorectal cancer. Individuals can lower their risk by increasing physical activity, avoiding  tobacco, and incorporating fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains in their diets. Screening should start earlier in individuals who have a history of colon cancer/polyps in the family or inflammatory blower disease. There are a number of screening options available and a physician can advise best about the most suitable screening test for an individual.