Colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in the national and 143,000 new cases are expected to be diagnosed this year, including 4,600 in New Jersey.

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But, it's also one of the most preventable cancers there is. Experts from the Cancer Institute of New Jersey are bringing prevention tips to the forefront this month, in recognition of National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

"Colon cancer is completely preventable as long as you get checked regularly," said Dr. Rebecca Moss, assistant professor of medical oncology at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey. "We are only doing about 50 percent of what we need to do in terms of screening people in order to prevent them from developing or dying from this cancer. A lot of people get this disease, but it is preventable if it's caught early enough."

Colon cancer develops from polyps, which are benign growths in the colon. If they are found during a routine screening, they can be removed and the threat of cancer is taken away. "The basic rule is that starting at the age of 50 people should get a routine colonoscopy," said Dr. Moss. "It takes about ten years for a polyp to turn into a cancer and most people start getting colon cancer when they're in their sixties, but it can happen sooner. So, having a colonoscopy at the age of 50 can catch many of those polyps before they start turning into cancers."

The exact cause of most colorectal cancers is not known, but risk factors include poor diet, lack of exercise and having polyps in the rectum or anus. Those over 50 are also at increased risk. Some signs of colorectal cancer include:

  • Bleeding from your rectum
  • Dark stools or blood in the stool or toilet after you have a bowel movement
  • A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool that lasts for more than a few days
  • Cramping pain in your lower stomach
  • Weakness, fatigue, unintended weight loss.

Studies show that colorectal cancer may be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight, eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, keeping physically active and limiting the use of alcoholic beverages.