BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ — Colorectal cancer isn’t a common topic for discussion and its symptoms are rarely noticed early.
Those are just two of the reasons why advocates for National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month are promoting recognition of the deadly disease via various events in municipalities throughout Union County in March, such as free screenings and testing.
While the disease can be prevented, “the warning signs come fairly late, which is part of the problem,” Dr. Tamir Ben-Menachem, chairman of Gastroenterology at Summit Medical Group MD Anderson told LocalSource.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer diagnosed in the United States after breast and prostate cancer, Ben-Menachem said.
The disease is caused by tumors that form on the lining of the colon or rectum, which are sections of the large intestine, the lower part of the body’s digestive system.
Some warning signs are blood in the stool or changes in bowel habits, the doctor added.
In addition to receiving screenings and colonoscopies, Ben-Menachem suggested alternative preventative measures people can take, such as eating a high-fiber diet, consuming less red meat and refraining from tobacco use.
Although the American Cancer Society predicts the disease will kill more than 50,000 people this year, a greater emphasis on colonoscopies and screenings can reduce that number. The ACS attributes a dropping death rate in both men and women to a number of reasons.
“One is that colorectal polyps, small clumps of cells that form on the lining of the colon or rectum, are now being found more often by screening and are removed before they can develop into cancers,” according to the ACS website.
Colorectal polyps are also being found earlier, when the disease is easier to treat, the ACS states.
Currently, “only 62 percent of the U.S. population gets screened for colon cancer,” Ben-Menachem said. “If 100 percent got screened, we could substantially prevent deaths.”
An event that emphasized disease prevention occurred in Hillside last week and future events are to be organized in Berkeley Heights and Union.
For Union residents, Colorectal Cancer Education and Screening Day will be held Friday, March 23, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the Vauxhall Community Meeting Hall on Russell Street in Vauxhall.
“We’re happy to host this event in recognition of National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month,” Union Mayor Suzette Cavadas said in a March 16 press release. “It’s important to understand that with the right education, colorectal cancer is identifiable and moreover — preventable.”
While part of the event will include a presentation by the Union County Office of Health Management, various screenings — including glucose and blood pressure testing — will also be available. Additionally, colorectal cancer screening kits will be distributed.
The New Jersey Cancer Education and Early Detection Screening Program will also provide free breast, cervical, prostate and colorectal screenings to those at or below 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, and who are also uninsured or underinsured.
In Berkeley Heights, Ben-Menachem is to speak Thursday, March 29, at 7 p.m. about the importance of screening and the warning signs of colon cancer at 1 Diamond Hill Road.