March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in the United States.

Colorectal cancer is a disease that starts in the lower portion of your digestive system. According to the American Cancer Society, about 1 in 23 men and 1 in 25 women will develop this cancer at some point in their lives.

But colorectal cancer doesn’t only impact those who live with it — the disease also has ripple effects on their loved ones and communities.

Getting involved in Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month gives everyone the opportunity to get a deeper understanding of this condition and work together to make a difference.

Let’s look at some facts about colorectal cancer and find out what you can do to help during Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

In 2000, former President Bill Clinton designated March as National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. It’s been going strong ever since.

This year, the Colorectal Cancer Alliance’s “Dress in Blue Day” is March 5. The organization encourages everyone to wear blue clothing or a blue ribbon to raise awareness of the disease and honor those who have been affected by it.

Colorectal cancer costs lives. Every year, more than 50,000 people die of colon cancer in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

That’s why so many people are involved in the effort to get the word out. If you’d like to join in this worthy cause, here are a few ways to get started:

Talk about the disease

There are many ways to educate yourself and others during Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Here are a few ideas to get started:

  • Wear a blue ribbon and encourage conversations about colorectal cancer.
  • Talk to family and friends about the realities of colorectal cancer, clearing up myths along the way.
  • Hold an online educational event to discuss prevention and address concerns about screening.
  • Post information about the disease on social media.
  • Share stories about how colorectal cancer has touched your life or what it was like to get screened.

Volunteer and raise money

Choose an advocacy organization or event that supports colon cancer awareness, education, and research. Then get in touch to explore ways you can help:

  • Ask about volunteer opportunities and legislative needs in your state.
  • See if the organization has materials you can help distribute, such as a Colorectal Awareness Month tool kit.
  • Make a donation to reputable organizations, if you’re able.
  • Raise money through online fundraising platforms and virtual events.

Take care of you

Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month is also a time for people to focus on their own health, as it relates to colorectal cancer.

Here are some ways to take care of yourself this month:

  • Talk with your healthcare provider about whether your personal or family health history increases your risk of developing colorectal cancer.
  • Ask about ways you can lower your risk of colorectal cancer.
  • If it’s time to get screened, don’t wait — discuss the pros and cons of the different screening tests with your healthcare provide and get them on your calendar.

Colorectal screening saves lives.

Abnormal cells and polyps found during a colonoscopy can be removed before they have the chance to develop into cancer. Plus, it can help you catch cancer when it’s at its earliest, most treatable stage.

Despite the benefits of getting screened, only about two-thirds of adults in the United States are on schedule with the recommended tests, according to the CDC.

Additional facts include:

  • About 140,000 people across the country get colorectal cancer every year, according to the CDC.
  • The outlook for people with the disease has been improving for several decades, largely due to screening.
  • You can get colorectal cancer at any age, but more than 90 percent of people who develop the disease are at least 50 years old.
  • Precancerous polyps and early-stage colorectal cancers don’t always cause symptoms.
  • Bloody stool, abdominal pain, and weight loss are symptoms of colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer screening tests look for cancer in people who don’t have symptoms. They can find and remove precancerous growths or early-stage cancers when they’re easier to treat.

Screening tests are often covered by health insurance.

For people at average risk of developing colorectal cancer, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening starting at age 50 and continuing to age 75.

Your doctor can make personalized recommendations on when you should get colorectal cancer screenings based on your:

  • family history of colorectal cancer
  • personal medical history
  • prior screening history
  • personal preferences
  • life expectancy

There are a few different types of colorectal cancer screening tests, each with their own pros and cons. Connect with your doctor to see which type of test makes the most sense for you.

Stool tests

These are noninvasive tests you can do from home. You’ll receive a kit with instructions on how to provide a stool sample, which will then be sent to a laboratory for analysis.

  • Fecal immunochemical test (FIT). This test uses antibodies to detect blood in the stool and may need to be repeated annually.
  • Guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT). This test uses a chemical called guaiac to see whether there’s blood in the stool. It may also need to be repeated every year.
  • Stool DNA test (FIT-DNA). This screening test looks for both blood and DNA mutations and usually needs to be repeated every 3 years.

If the results of any of these tests come back abnormal, your doctor may recommend that you get a colonoscopy.

Imaging tests

These tests can be performed in a doctor’s office, clinic, or hospital on an outpatient basis. They involve some prep time and may require sedation.

  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy. For this test, a flexible tube called a sigmoidoscope is inserted through the anus and into the lower part of the colon to allow your doctor to see inside. If abnormal tissue is found, it can be removed during the exam, and you’ll probably need to follow up with a colonoscopy.
  • Virtual colonoscopy. This procedure uses advanced CT scanning of the colon and rectum to look for abnormalities. Abnormal results from this test may indicate the need for a colonoscopy.
  • Colonoscopy. This test also involves inserting a flexible tube through the anus, but the colonoscope is much longer and provides a view of the entire length of the colon. During this procedure, the doctor can take a biopsy or remove any polyps that are found.

If no abnormalities are found, you generally don’t need to repeat a flexible sigmoidoscopy or virtual colonoscopy for 5 years. A colonoscopy that finds no abnormalities typically only gets repeated after 10 years.

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. It’s an opportunity to learn more about the disease and share what you know. It’s also a time to raise awareness for those who’ve been impacted about the disease, and potentially raise money for organizations working to advance research and treatments.

Colorectal cancer is typically slow growing. With proper screening and early diagnosis, the outlook for people with this disease is usually hopeful. In recent years, there have been promising advances in treatment options for colorectal cancers.

Talk with your doctor to see if and when you should get screened for colorectal cancer.