Each March, HCA Healthcare observes National Colorectal Awareness Month, dedicated to encouraging patients, survivors, and caregivers to share their stories, advocate for prevention, and inform others about the importance of early detection.

The August 2020 passing of Hollywood actor Chadwick Boseman from colon cancer has further raised awareness of the disease. The late actor, only 43 years old when he succumbed to the disease, had courageously battled colon cancer for four years, during the greatest triumphs of his career. He was best known as the Black Panther in the Marvel movies.

Actor Chadwick Boseman, best known for his role as King T’Challa in the movie “Black Panther,” passed away at the age of 43 from colon cancer. (Photo credit: DFree / Shutterstock.com)

In October, a month after beating COVID-19, 66-year-old HCA Healthcare patient Gus Rodriguez watched Chadwick Boseman’s story on the news with his wife.

Like many Americans, Gus admitted to putting off routine doctors’ visits and screenings. Boseman’s story inspired him to confess to his wife that he had been experiencing blood in his stool.

With his wife’s urging, Gus underwent a colonoscopy. He had colon cancer, but in the early stages.

“Right time, right place, watching that program saved my life,” Gus told CBS 12 News.

HCA Healthcare patient, Gus Rodriguez, with his wife. (Gus Rodriguez)

And two weeks ago, Dr. Heidi Bahna, a board-certified colorectal surgeon at HCA Healthcare’s JFK Medical Center in Atlantis, Florida performed his life-saving surgery. “We were able to do a robotic, minimally invasive surgery, and he was cured of his cancer and will get chemotherapy to make sure this cancer doesn’t come back,” Dr. Bahna explained.

Watch the powerful story, featuring interviews with board-certified colorectal surgeons, Dr. Heidi Bahna & Dr. Juliet Ray, here.

Dr. Juliet Ray (left) and Dr. Heidi Bahna (right), board certified general surgeons fellowship trained in colon and rectal surgery.

Preventing colorectal cancer

Not including skin cancer, colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer deaths in American men and women combined.

Unfortunately, according to the American Cancer Society, about 1 in 3 people in the US who should get tested for colorectal cancer have never been screened. It can be an uncomfortable topic to discuss, but it’s important to talk to your loved ones about colorectal cancer and the importance of getting screened.

Keep reading to learn more about colorectal cancer and preventive screenings.

Colorectal cancer risk factors
Some modifiable lifestyle factors can increase the risk of developing colorectal cancer, including:

  • Diets high in meat and low in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Excessive drinking
  • Obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • Smoking

Other uncontrollable factors, such as having a strong family or personal history of colon cancer, rectal cancer and adenomatous polyps, may also put someone at greater risk.

Symptoms of colorectal cancer
In most cases, colorectal cancer can occur in adults without any detectable symptoms, making expert diagnoses even more critical to your health and wellbeing. Nevertheless, there are some symptoms or warning signs of colorectal cancer that every adult should know:

  • Bright red, black, or tarry blood in stool
  • Consistent fatigue feelings
  • Constipation, diarrhea, or a feeling of having an unemptied bowel
  • Discomfort in the abdominal area, including:
    • Bloating
    • Cramps
    • Frequent gas pains
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Unusually narrow stools

Screening for colorectal cancer
Early preventive screening is the most effective way to catch colorectal cancer at its early stages when the most treatment options are available. Previously, colorectal cancer screening was only recommended for people age 50 and older. However, those recommendations have been adjusted to address increasing incidences of colorectal cancer appearing in younger age groups.

According to the American Cancer Society, research shows that adults with colorectal cancer under the age of 55, are 58% more likely to be diagnosed with a later-stage disease than older adults. This can limit their options and lessen their chances for restorative treatment. Sarah Cannon, the Cancer Institute of HCA Healthcare, and other organizations, including the American Cancer Society, recommend screening for men and women with average risks, as early as 45 years old with either a:

  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years
  • Colonoscopy every 10 years

Colorectal screening is considered a free preventive measure under most insurance providers and is typically covered at no cost to the patient. Talk to your doctor about your risk for colorectal cancer and when you should be screened.

Nashville-based HCA Healthcare is one of the nation’s leading providers of healthcare services, comprising 185 hospitals and approximately 2,000 sites of care, including surgery centers, freestanding ERs, urgent care centers, and physician clinics, in 20 states and the United Kingdom.