03/02/2018 What You Need to Know about Colorectal Cancer

Alli Walsh, Social Media Strategist

What You Need to Know about Colorectal Cancer

As the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, colorectal cancer is responsible for taking more than 53,000 lives each year. A total of 145,000 people are diagnosed annually, but with proper screening, prevention measures and treatment, 90 percent of early-stage cases are survivable.1 Each March since the year 2000, the National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month has been shedding much-needed light on the disease.2

Risk Factors.

Age increases risk of colorectal cancers; 90 percent are diagnosed in adults over the age of 50. People with inflammatory bowel disease – such as Chron’s disease or ulcerative colitis—are also at an increased risk. Family history of the disease, certain genetic syndromes and lifestyle factors, play a role in assessing risk as well. People who get little physical activity, eat a high fat or low fiber diet, are overweight, smoke or drink, all have a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer.3

Symptoms.

Being symptom-free does not mean screening isn’t necessary. Oftentimes, colorectal cancers go undetected due to lack of symptoms or the natural tendency to confuse symptoms with other common ailments. If you experience any of the following symptoms indicated by the Colon Cancer Coalition, discuss them with your doctor:

  • Blood in your stool or bleeding from the rectum
  • Unexplained or unintentional weight loss
  • Anemia
  • Unexplained fatigue
  • Cramping pain in the lower stomach
  • A feeling of discomfort or an urge to have a bowel movement when there is no need to have one
  • Change in bowel habits or blood in the toilet after having a bowel movement
  • Change in the appearance of the stool, or dark/black-colored stools4

Screening.

Most colorectal cancers begin as abnormal growths in the colon called precancerous polyps.5 Screening examinations, such as stool tests, colonoscopy and flexible sigmoidoscopy are often able to detect these growths before they become symptomatic.6 Healthy adults without increased risk should begin screening at age 50 and continue at regular intervals through age 76.7 Risk factors warrant the screening process to begin earlier, so talk with your doctor about what’s best for you.

Prevention.

While screening is needed to detect polyps or colorectal cancers, there is research underway to determine the impact of lifestyle changes that may reduce overall risk of cancer. For disease prevention in general, medical experts recommend eating a diet low in animal fat and high in fiber, fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains.8 Studies show other choices, like quitting smoking, reducing alcohol intake and exercising more, may also decrease the risk of colorectal cancer.9 And on the horizon? Current studies are looking into preventive medicines and supplements that may help reduce risk of the disease.10

References:
1 “What You Need to Know About Colon Cancer.” Colon Cancer Coalition.
2 “Dress in Blue Day.” Colorectal Cancer Alliance.
3 “What Are the Risk Factors for Colorectal Cancer?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 Apr. 2016.
4 “Colon Cancer Symptoms.” Colon Cancer Coalition.
5,7 “Colorectal (Colon) Cancer.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4 Oct. 2017.
6 “Colorectal Cancer Screening Tests.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 24 Mar. 2017.
8,9,10 “Colorectal (Colon) Cancer.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 Apr. 2016.

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