Colorectal cancer (colon cancer or rectal cancer) is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in the USA. It develops in the digestive system of approximately one in twenty adults, affecting men and women equally.
What are the risk factors?
- age 50 years or older
- personal or family history of colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer
- inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease)
- diabetes mellitus or insulin resistance
- gall bladder disease
- alcohol consumption of more than 4 drinks per week
- cigarette smoking
- sedentary lifestyle
- genetic syndromes such as familial adenomatous polyposis or hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch Syndrome)
- previous radiation therapy directed at the abdomen
- ueretocolic anastomosis
- Ethnic or racial background: African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and people of eastern European Jewish descent have higher rates of colorectal cancer than Caucasians.
What are the symptoms?
Colorectal cancer usually grows slowly. In early stages, the symptoms of cancer or precancerous polyps are often vague or nonexistent.
The following symptoms may be signs of colorectal cancer or other problems such as hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome, or peptic ulcers. If you experience any of these symptoms for more than a few days, talk to your doctor or a gastroenterologist.
- bloody bowel movements
- darker than normal bowel movements
- narrower than normal bowel movements
- unexpected change in bowel movements (such as diarrhea or constipation)
- abdominal pain, gas, or cramps that do not go away
- unintended weight loss
- weakness or fatigue (may be a sign of blood loss)
Why get screened?
Screening saves lives!
With colonoscopy screening,
- precancerous polyps (adenomas) can be found and removed before becoming cancerous. This means that colorectal cancer is preventable!
- cancer can be detected early, when a cure is more likely.
In the absence of specific risk factors (as those mentioned above) and other GI diseases or symptoms, colorectal cancer screening should begin soon after your 50th birthday.
What are my screening options?
What steps can I take to promote colon health and prevent colorectal cancer?
- Get screened when it’s recommended by your doctor
- Know your risk factors
- Don’t smoke
- Don’t drink alcohol in excess
- Keep diabetes under control
- Make fruits, vegetables and fiber part of your daily food plan
- Keep your diet low in red meat, animal fat and cholesterol
- Consume sufficient amounts of folic acid, calcium, magnesium
- Exercise regularly
- Also encourage friends and family to obtain appropriate screening!