Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers in both men and women, and is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States¹. Cases of this serious disease continue to increase each year, especially in younger adults². Globally, it is estimated that the total number of deaths from colorectal cancer will increase by up to 71.5% by the year 2035 ². While the topic may be difficult to talk about, let’s honor this awareness month by starting the conversation! So, what is colorectal cancer? And how can it be prevented?
Cancer is caused by uncontrolled cell growth. Sometimes, abnormal growths (also called polyps) form in the colon or rectum. Polyps may become cancerous over time. Screening tests can find polyps before they become cancerous, and can detect cancer in its earliest, most treatable stages.
The Importance of Regular Screenings for Colon Cancer Prevention
Routine screening is the most effective way to prevent colorectal cancer. Since most colorectal cancers begin as precancerous polyps¹, finding and removing polyps is the best way to reduce your risk. The frequency and type of screening is dependent on many factors, and it is important to discuss the best screening option for you with a healthcare provider.
Available screening options include fecal occult blood test, stool DNA, virtual colonoscopy (CT scan), double-contrast barium enema, and colonoscopy. While a colonoscopy can be perceived as a more invasive procedure, any polyps identified can be sampled or removed and sent to a pathology lab for testing. Laboratories such as HNL Lab Medicine employ pathologist physicians with diagnostic expertise that can examine these removed polyps under a microscope to make a diagnosis.
Diet may also play a role in preventing colorectal cancer and other chronic diseases. Reducing your consumption of saturated fats, like animal fats, and increasing your consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains may help prevent health conditions like colorectal cancer. Other healthy choices that might reduce your risk of developing colorectal cancer include keeping a healthy weight, limiting your consumption of alcohol, avoiding tobacco, and keeping physically active¹.
Common Risk Factors for Colon Cancer
The risk of developing colorectal cancer increases with age. Certain diets may also increase your risk.
These diets include¹:
- low-fiber diet,
- high-fat diet,
- diet high in processed meats,
- diet low in fruits and vegetables
Other risk factors are²:
- A personal or family history of polyps or colorectal cancer
- Inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- Gallbladder removal
- Genetic syndromes like familial adenomatous polyposis or Lynch syndrome
Some lifestyle choices such as lack of regular physical activity, consuming alcohol, using tobacco, and not managing weight may also increase your risk of developing colorectal cancer².
Understanding the Symptoms
Routine screening is important because, in many cases, polyps and early stages of colorectal cancer have no symptoms. As the disease progresses, symptoms may include¹:
- A change in bowel habits, such as consistency or frequency
- Diarrhea, constipation, or feeling like the bowel doesn’t empty all the way
- Bloody stool
- Unexplained weight loss
- Abdominal pain, aches, or cramping that doesn’t go away
Talk to your healthcare provider about colorectal cancer screening options. Current guidelines recommend that adults aged 45-75 be screened for colorectal cancer every three, five, or ten years, depending on the screening method¹. For those with certain risk factors, it may be recommended to begin screening earlier. Your healthcare provider can help you select the screening method and frequency that is best for you.
Don’t wait for symptoms! Remember- colorectal cancer is easiest to treat when it is caught early. Routine screening saves lives. It can detect polyps before they become cancerous and can catch cancer before it has time to spread. For more information about colorectal cancer screening, make an appointment with your healthcare provider today.
¹Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, February 28). Colorectal (colon) cancer. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/colorectal/index.htm.
²Sawicki, T., Ruszkowska, M., Danielewicz, A., Niedźwiedzka, E., Arłukowicz, T., & Przybyłowicz, K. E. (2021). A Review of Colorectal Cancer in Terms of Epidemiology, Risk Factors, Development, Symptoms and Diagnosis. Cancers, 13(9), 2025. https://doi.org/10.3390/cancers13092025.