With the Garden State hosting one of the "hotspots" for colorectal cancer deaths among younger women, medical professionals are using March — National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month — to remind individuals about the importance of screening, so they can spot early on one of the most preventable types of cancer.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer among men and women in the U.S., according to the American College of Gastroenterology. The lifetime risk is one in 23 for men, and one in 25 for women.

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"One way to diagnose or find it is by doing screening tests, such as colonoscopy," said Dr. Sita Chokhavatia, a gastroenterologist at The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood. "Unlike other screening modalities, colonoscopy is one of those that's therapeutic in addition to being diagnostic."

Chokhavatia noted that if people want to be screened but aren't in love with the idea of a colonoscopy, which searches for growths known as polyps, there's also the option to first take a stool-based test or imaging test. If there are abnormalities, a colonoscopy would come next.

People for years have been advised to begin screening at age 50. But groups such as ACG are now recommending that people seek screenings at age 45, specifically individuals who are at "average risk" for colorectal cancer.

In a study by ACG that looked at mortality rates in select counties across the nation, Bergen County was cited as one of the counties where women diagnosed with early-onset colorectal cancer have a greater risk of dying from the disease. Chokhavatia said physical inactivity and fertility may be factors that contribute to the geographic variation in survival.

Chokhavatia said there's concern among the medical community about individuals delaying or ignoring healthcare during the COVID-19 public health crisis.

Medical professionals have a shared goal of a screening rate of 80% among eligible U.S. adults.

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