Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

By Maggie Allard, MD, Director of Adult & Family Medicine and Nicole S. Mitton, Grant Writer/Communications Specialist

Colorectal cancer is a disease where abnormal cells in the colon or rectum divide uncontrollably and form a malignant tumor. The colon and rectum are parts of our digestive system, which absorbs nutrients from food and water and stores solid waste until it passes out of the body.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of non-skin cancer in men (after prostate cancer and lung cancer) and women (after breast cancer and lung cancer). It is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States after lung cancer. In 2014, almost 140,000 people in the US will likely be diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and over 50,000 people will die from it (American Cancer Society).

The major risk factor for colorectal cancer is older age. However, several other factors are associated with increased risk, including:

  • excessive alcohol use
  • obesity
  • physical inactivity
  • cigarette smoking
  • diet (possibly)

People with a history of inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn disease also have a higher risk of colorectal cancer. People who have a family history of colorectal cancer or certain inherited conditions (such as Lynch syndrome and familial adenomatous polyposis) are at increased risk of colorectal cancer as well.

Most colorectal cancers begin as a polyp, which is an abnormal growth in the mucous tissue that lines the inner surface of the colon or rectum. Polyps may be flat or raised. There are two types of raised polyps:

  • sessile polyps, which look like mushrooms without a stalk
  • pedunculated polyps, which may grow like a mushroom with a stalk

Polyps are common in people older than 50 years of age, and most are benign/non-cancerous. However, a certain type of polyp known as an adenoma may develop into cancer.

Several screening tests can help doctors find colorectal cancer early. Colorectal cancer is usually more treatable when found before it causes symptoms or has a chance to spread. These tests allow growths that might otherwise become cancer to be detected and removed, so screening may be a form of cancer prevention, not just early detection.

A colonoscopy is the best screening test, and is done in a clinic or hospital. Some tests can be done at home, such as a fecal occult blood test (FOBT). FOBT is a stool kit that is available from labs, including the lab at Whittier Street Health Center. Your primary care doctor will tell you how to get ready for your test. Some people find the tests for colorectal cancer to be uncomfortable, but most agree that the benefits to their health outweigh the discomfort.

Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month - Are you 50 or older? Time to get screenedIf you are over 50 years old and/or you are concerned about your risk for colorectal cancer, please call our Adult Medicine Department for an appointment at 617-989-3115, or schedule a visit online at

To celebrate Colorectal Awareness Month, Whittier Street Health Center invites you to hear stories from patients who have completed a colonoscopy procedure, and to hear about several reliable screening options, including some screenings that cost as little as $25.00 and are covered by insurance. Please join us:

Event: Colorectal Awareness Month Patient Focus Group

Date: Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Time: 10:30 AM – 12:00 PM

Place: Whittier Street Health Center, Room 296


Web Sources:

A note about Whittier and COVID-19

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak in our area, we ask all clients and patients to call ahead before coming to any of our sites. We are working to take care of most clients/patients via phone/video encounter so we can meet your ongoing healthcare needs. This is for your safety and so we can provide the highest quality of care to you while following CDC guidance for COVID-19. Please call 617-427-1000 for any questions or concerns.

Whittier will provide COVID-19 testing from 10 am to 4 pm on Monday to Friday. Following CDC guidance, we recommend testing if you have a fever AND one of the following three symptoms: cough OR shortness of breath OR sore throat. Please bring your picture identification and your insurance card (if you have insurance).