March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. For those who don’t know, colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon or rectum. This year, over 142,000 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and it is estimated that over 50,000 people will die from the disease (worldwide, that figure jumps to over 600,000 deaths). It common in both genders, and affects all racial and ethnic groups. It is most often found in people aged 50 and over. Of cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer is the 2nd leading cancer in the U.S. which results in death. With early screening and detection, the polyps which form in the colon and can lead to cancer, can be easily removed before they become cancer. It is estimated that if all men and women aged 50 and older underwent regular screening, 6 out of 10 colorectal cancer deaths could be prevented. The old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is definitely applicable with this disease.
Watch this video tour of a colon (don’t worry, it’s just a prop, not the real thing) and see what healthy colon tissue should look like and what polyps or cancer of the colon can look like.
So are you wondering if you are at risk? Here is more information on the subject from our friends at the Prevent Cancer Foundation.
Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors
- 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 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 & Early Detection
Although a leading cause of cancer death for both men and women, if detected early, colorectal cancer can be more easily and successfully treated.
Colorectal Cancer Prevention
- 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.
Colorectal Cancer Early Detection
If you’re at average risk for colorectal cancer, start getting screened at age 50. If you’re at higher risk, you may need to start regular screening 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.
Use this information to help you talk about screening options with your health care professional. Consider one of these tests:
Tests that find pre-cancer and cancer:
- Colonoscopy – Every 10 years
- Virtual colonoscopy – Every 5 years
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy – Every 5 years
- Double-contrast barium enema – Every 5 years
Tests that mainly find cancer
- Stool occult blood test (FOBT) (guaiac) – Every year
- Stool immunochemical test (FIT) – Every year
- Stool DNA test (sDNA) – Ask your health care professional because technology is evolving.
An abnormal result of a virtual colonoscopy or a double-contrast barium enema, or a positive FOBT, FIT or sDNA test, should be followed up with a colonoscopy.
Colorectal Cancer Symptoms
Early stages of colorectal cancer don’t usually have symptoms. Later on, people may have these symptoms:
- Bleeding from the rectum or blood in or on the stool
- Change in bowel habits
- Stools that are more narrow than usual
- General problems in the abdomen, such as bloating, fullness or cramps
- Diarrhea, constipation or a feeling in the rectum that the bowel movement isn’t quite complete
- Weight loss for no apparent reason
- Being tired all the time
Colorectal Cancer Treatment
- Surgery is the most common treatment. When the cancer has spread, chemotherapy or radiation may be given before or after surgery.