HARLINGEN — In recognition of March serving as colorectal cancer awareness month, Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen will host a special “Dessert with the Doctors” to highlight the importance of education and screenings in the fight against colorectal cancer.

The free “Dessert with the Doctors” is scheduled for Thursday, March 2 at 6:30 p.m. at Valley Baptist Medical Center, 2101 Pease Street in Harlingen (on the first floor of the hospital, main South Tower entrance, Woodward Conference Center). The discussion will be led by a trio of local gastroenterologists – Dr. Wayne D. Green, Dr. Oral James, and Dr. Nolan Perez.

Colorectal cancer refers to cancer that develops in the colon or rectal areas of the digestive system. Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed form of cancer in American men and women and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths.

The colon is an approximately five-foot long muscular tube where food is digested, nutrients are absorbed and stool is formed. Waste matter then goes into the rectum, the last six inches of the digestive system, before passing out of the body through the anus. The wall of the colon and rectum has several layers of tissue. Cancer can develop in the innermost layer and then grow through some or all of the other layers.

Before cancer starts, an abnormal growth of tissue or tumor begins as a non-cancerous polyp on the lining of the colon or rectum. There are several types of polyps. Hyperplastic and inflammatory polyps usually do not become pre-cancerous. Adenomatous polyps may potentially become cancerous over the course of several years. Once cancer begins to develop, it can grow into the wall of the colon or rectum and then spread into blood or lymph vessels.

Many people with colorectal cancer do not know they have the disease because they have no symptoms until the cancer reaches an advanced stage. Common warning signs of colorectal cancer include a change in bowel habits (diarrhea or constipation), a feeling that bowels do not empty completely, blood in the stool, cramps or bloating, unexplained weight loss and weakness or fatigue. A person with symptoms should see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.

Risk factors for colorectal cancer include obesity, inactivity, increased alcohol consumption, and a diet high in red meat. Age is another risk factor for colorectal cancer, and that risk increases with age. More than 90 percent of cases of colorectal cancer occur in people age 50 years old and over.

Screening tests to detect colorectal cancer include:

• Fecal occult blood test to check stool for small amounts of blood

• Sigmoidoscopy to examine the lower part of the colon

• Colonoscopy to view the large intestine and take tissue samples

• Barium enema to take x-ray images of the colon and rectum

However, education and regular screenings beginning at age 50 – or earlier for individuals with increased or genetic risk factors – can make colon cancer preventable or highly treatable through early detection.

Once the diagnosis of colorectal cancer has been made, treatment will depend on the tumor location and stage of the disease. The most common treatment for colorectal cancer is surgery, which may involve removing a section of the colon or rectum and then reconnecting the healthy parts. In addition, chemotherapy may be administered to kill cancer cells throughout the body.

For more information or to RSVP for the March 2 Dessert with the Doctors, call 844-614-9385.