Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Brainerd Clinic is shining with blue lights in March to raise awareness about colon cancer and its prevention.

More than 60 landmarks across Minnesota have also gone blue as part of the "Ask Me Why I'm Blue" effort, organized by the nonprofit Colon Cancer Coalition.

The American Cancer Society reports colorectal cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second-leading cause of death in men and women in the U.S. This year, more than 50,000 Americans will die from colorectal cancer and more than 135,000 will be diagnosed with the disease. This month's awareness campaign focuses on the importance of early detection of colorectal cancer through screenings.

The best way detect colorectal cancer is an examination called a colonoscopy, when a physician uses a thin, flexible tube attached to a camera to get a good look at the entire colon. The procedure is performed in hospitals or clinics. Another option is a fecal immunochemical test or FIT, which can be performed at home and sent to a laboratory.

An even newer test, called FITDNA, looks for genetic mutations that may indicate abnormalities. A patient with abnormal results from a FIT or FITDNA test must then have a colonoscopy to check for colon cancer.

The FIT test is a convenient non-invasive option that can be done from home to help offer patients cancer-screening options. Patients can just ask their doctor for it when they're at the clinic for a regular checkup, and mail in the results.

"Colonoscopy is still preferred as the gold standard colon cancer screening," said Melonee Ruhl, nurse practitioner in gastroenterology at Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Brainerd Clinic, in a news release. "The next step for patients who have abnormal results from the FIT test would then be a colonoscopy."

At health fairs and community events, Essentia also promotes colon cancer education by displaying its giant inflatable colon, which is 30 feet long and features healthy pink tissue, polyps and a bright red mass to depict advanced colon cancer. Colon cancer screenings are recommended for adults age 50 and older. Those with a family history of colorectal cancer should let their care team know and talk with them about when they should be tested.