March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and UC Irvine Healthcare wants you to know that the second-leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. is preventable, treatable and curable.

“Don’t ignore the health of your digestive tract,” says Dr. Michael J. Stamos, chair of UC Irvine’s Department of Surgery and president of the American Board of Colon & Rectal Surgery. “Colorectal cancer does not have to be fatal; the more you know, the better you’ll be able to beat it before it beats you.”

Throughout March, UC Irvine Healthcare will post prevention, detection and treatment tips on its Facebook page: In addition, Stamos will appear in 30-second commercials on KCBS Channel 2 during the month to remind those diagnosed with the disease that finding the right surgeon improves the likelihood of recovery.

Estimates show that as many as 60 percent of colorectal cancer deaths could be prevented if men and women 50 or older received routine screening. In most cases, the disease develops from abnormal precancerous growths called polyps in the colon or rectum. A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine offers the most direct evidence yet of the benefits of regular screening.

“This study validates what we have believed for the past two decades – that colonoscopy and the removal of polyps prevent cancer and save lives,” Stamos says. “Hopefully, this will spur more people to get screened.”

The disease’s symptoms are often subtle, Stamos says. The following signs should be checked with a doctor:

  • Pain and tenderness in the lower abdomen.
  • Blood in stools.
  • Diarrhea, constipation or other changes in bowel habits.
  • Pain that may indicate intestinal obstruction.
  • Narrow stools.
  • Unexplained anemia.
  • Weight loss with no known cause.

Stamos recommends the following steps for effective colorectal cancer screening, starting at age 50:

  • Colonoscopy every 10 years.
  • High-sensitivity fecal occult blood test, also known as a stool test, annually.
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years.
  • More frequent screening for anyone with inflammatory bowel disease or a personal or family history of colorectal cancer or polyps.

This month, Stamos will appear for the second time on a CBS HealthWatch webcast as part of a panel of nationally recognized colorectal cancer experts. The program, hosted by Dr. Travis Stork of the TV show “The Doctors,” will address screening, surgical options and more. It will stream live on at 2:30 p.m. Pacific time Wednesday, March 28. Questions may be submitted now to Selected ones will be read and answered during the webcast.

About UC Irvine Medical Center: Orange County’s only university hospital, UC Irvine Medical Center offers acute- and general-care services at its new, 482,000-square-foot UC Irvine Douglas Hospital and is home to the county’s only Level I trauma center, American College of Surgeons-verified regional burn center and National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center. U.S. News & World Report has included UC Irvine for 11 consecutive years on its list of America’s Best Hospitals, giving special recognition to its urology, gynecology, kidney disorders and cancer programs.

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is a top-ranked university dedicated to research, scholarship and community service. Led by Chancellor Michael Drake since 2005, UCI is among the most dynamic campuses in the University of California system, with nearly 28,000 undergraduate and graduate students, 1,100 faculty and 9,000 staff. Orange County’s second-largest employer, UCI contributes an annual economic impact of $4 billion. For more UCI news, visit

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