AVA, Mo. — March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and the United States has one of the highest rates of colorectal cancer in the world.

Colorectal cancer is expected to claim the lives of more than 52,000 Americans this year, according to the American Cancer Society.

Doctors are working to raise awareness that people in their 40s should start getting screened.

“Studies have shown earlier screening leads to earlier detection thus better prevention,” said Kathy Domiano.

Domiano is a nurse practitioner who has been working at Missouri Ozarks Community Health for over 10 years. She stresses for people to not procrastinate and to get the screening done especially if they are at high risk for developing cancer.

“The vast majority [of colorectal cancer] starts out as precancerous polyps or a non-cancer growth,” said Domiano. “So, the early detection or the preventive tools that can identify those changes before they turn into cancer helps them get treated before that cancer develops.”

According to the CDC, most people should begin colorectal cancer screening after turning 45. However, you may need to be tested earlier than 45 or more often than other people if you have the following:

Symptoms to look out for:

“Unfortunately, a lot of times there are no symptoms until it gets to a later stage,” said Domiano. “However, sometimes there will be some subtle changes. The most common symptom would be a change in your stool. Of course, with a lot of cancers, there is abnormal weight loss when you’re not trying or you have pain going to the bathroom.”

Screening procedures:

There are two types of screenings a person can take. One is a stool test and the other is the visual screening.

“The stool test is when the individual receives a kit and collects a stool specimen in the privacy of their own home,” said Domiano. “That is the least invasive.”

However, a visual screening is generally more accurate.

“The best colon cancer screen is when they actually go in and visualize the colon itself,” said Domiano. “And that’s the one that everybody gets kind of concerned about it being uncomfortable. The thing I always encourage patients is that it’s not really painful because [doctors] sedate you so that it’s not an uncomfortable procedure.”

If a patient decides to perform the least invasive procedure and it’s negative the patient is recommended to take the test every year. However, if a patient decides to do a colonoscopy and the test comes back clean you are recommended to do the test every 10 years.

Things to help prevent colorectal cancer:

  • Regular screenings
  • Know your family history
  • Monitor diet