Did you know that colorectal cancer is the fourth-most common cancer in the United States and the second-leading cause of death from cancer? And since March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, we wanted to provide some helpful information about this cancer of the colon or rectum.
As common in women as it is in men, this year, over 136,830 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and an estimated 50,310 will die of the disease, according to an article on preventcancer.org. With certain types of screening, this cancer can be prevented by removing polyps (grape-like growths on the wall of the intestine) before they become cancerous. Several screening tests detect colorectal cancer early, when it can be more easily and successfully treated.
Now that we know what colorectal cancer is, let’s take a look at risk factors and prevention:
- People age 50 and older
- People who smoke
- People who are overweight or obese, especially those who carry fat around their waists
- People who aren’t physically active
- People who drink alcohol in excess, especially men
- People who eat a lot of red meat (such as beef, pork or lamb) or processed meat (such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs or cold cuts)
- People with personal or family histories of colorectal cancer
- People with personal histories of colorectal cancer or benign (not cancerous) colorectal polyps
- People with personal histories of inflammatory bowel disease (such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease)
- People with family histories of inherited colorectal cancer or inherited colorectal problems
Colorectal cancer prevention
If detected early, colorectal cancer can be more easily and successfully treated.
- Be physically active for at least 30 minutes, at least five days a week.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Don’t smoke. If you do smoke, quit.
- If you drink alcohol, have no more than one drink a day if you’re a woman or two drinks a day if you’re a man.
- Eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains to help you get and stay healthy.
- Eat less red meat and cut out processed meat.
Tests that find pre-cancer and cancer:
- Colonoscopy (Every 10 years)
- Virtual colonoscopy (5 years)
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy (5 yrs)
- Double-contrast barium enema (5 yrs)
To get a jump on prevention, start getting screened at age 50. If you’re a higher risk, you may need to start screening regularly at an earlier age and be screened more often. If you’re older than 75, ask your doctor if you should continue to be screened. The best time to get screened is before you have any symptoms. Stay tuned for the next part of this series, in which we'll discuss symptoms to look for as well as treatment options if diagnosed.