March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. While it’s the second deadliest cancer in the United States – 1 in 24 people will be diagnosed with Colorectal Cancer – you can make a difference today.
Awareness & Screening: The Most Powerful Tools for Prevention
It’s critical to gain and spread awareness about the disease, as well as the importance of getting screened. Ideally, people should get their first colonoscopy at age 45, or earlier if you fall into one or several risk categories. Your doctor can advise you
Colorectal Cancer Is Often Diagnosed By Getting Checked
Most polyps can be found and removed with regular screening, before they have the chance to develop into colorectal cancer. It usually takes 10 to 15 years for polyps to turn into cancer.
Early Detection of Colorectal Cancer Can Greatly Improve The Outcome
Screening can also enable early detection of colorectal cancer, when it’s small and easier to treat. When found early, the outcome is often a complete recovery. For this reason, you should schedule a routine colon cancer screening.
What is Colorectal Cancer?
Colorectal cancer is a term often used interchangeably with colon cancer. Colon cancer refers to cancer that originates in the large intestine, also called your colon. Colorectal cancer is technically the term used to describe colon cancer and rectal cancer, which originates in the rectum, just past the colon.
What Factors Increase Risk of Colon Cancer?
Researchers have identified several risk factors that can potentially increase a person’s chance of developing colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer.
Colorectal cancer risk factors you cannot change:
- Advanced age:
Colorectal cancer is more commonly found in people over age 50. Although cases among people younger than age 50 are rising. The reason for this remains unclear.
- Your racial and ethnic background
In the United States, American Indian and Alaska Natives have the highest rates of colorectal cancer, followed by African American men and women.
Eastern European Jews (Ashkenazi) have one of the highest colorectal cancer
risks of any ethnic group in the world.
- Personal medical history of benign polyps
- Personal medical history of inflammatory intestinal / bowel diseases, like Chron’s or Colitis
- Genetics: A family history of colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps
- Having an inherited syndrome
Roughly 5% of people who develop colorectal cancer have inherited gene mutations that cause family cancer syndromes which can lead to the disease.
- Having type 2 diabetes
Usually, people with non-insulin dependent diabetes, are at a higher risk of colorectal cancer. And they often have a less favorable prognosis once cancer is diagnosed.
Note: Speak to your doctor about both your personal medical history and your family’s to better understand your risk.
Lifestyle-related risk factors linked to colorectal cancer you can change:
- Being Overweight or Obese:
Not only does it increase the risk of developing colon cancer in both men and women (although the link seems to be stronger in men), it also decreases your odds of making a successful recovery. Getting to and staying at a healthy weight may help lower your risk.
- Certain Types of Diets:
Diets that are high in red meats, like beef, pork, lamb and/or liver, along with processed meats such as hot dogs and most luncheon meat, increases your risk for colorectal cancer. While diets that are high in fiber, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables,decreases your risk for colorectal cancer.
- Lack of Physical Activity:
Reducing how much time you spend sitting and laying down may lower your risk. Increasing the amount of physical activity, as well as its intensity can help reduce your risk of colorectal cancer and polyps.
Long-term smoking is linked to a greater risk of colorectal cancer. Stopping smoking may help decrease your odds of getting colorectal cancer (and many other types of cancer).
- Alcohol Use
Moderate to heavy alcohol consumption is associated with an increased risk of cancer of the colon and rectum when compared with no alcohol consumption.
Note: Having one or many risk factors does not mean you’ll get colon cancer. Also, some people who get colorectal cancer may not have any known risk factors.
Lower your risk of getting colorectal cancer by making these lifestyle changes. In doing so, you will also decrease your risk for several other cancers which are linked to these same risks.
Pay attention to your body for these symptoms that may be a sign of an issue:
- Blood in your stool
- Rectal bleeding
- Changes in bowel habits that do not go away, such as constipation, diarrhea, or a noticeable difference in the color or consistency of your stool.
- Persistent cramps, gas, or other abdominal discomforts
- Unusual or unexplained weight loss
If you notice any of these out of the ordinary symptoms, be sure to report them to your doctor.
What is the Treatment for Colorectal Cancer?
Once colorectal cancer is diagnosed, its stage and location, as well as other health concerns, determine the best course of treatment.
If your colon cancer is in the early stages and is very small, your doctor may recommend a minimally invasive approach to surgery.
If your colon cancer is more advanced and has grown into or through your colon, surgery to remove the cancer may be necessary. And it may end there.
Other treatments to fight colorectal cancer may also be recommended:
- Radiation therapy
- Targeted drug therapy
Your eyes and your voice are powerful. Pay attention to your body and share this information with friends, family and your community.