Health Topics

Colon Cancer Prevention: Regular Screenings, Healthy Choices

March is National Colorectal Cancer Month

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 150,000 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year. According to Global Cancer Statistics, it is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in males and the second in females. It is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in men in developed countries and the third most prevalent cause of death from cancer for women.

However, when found and treated early, the five-year relative survival rate is 90 percent. Unfortunately, less than 40 percent of colorectal cancers are found early. Therefore, recognizing signs and symptoms of problems could save your life.

What is Colorectal Cancer?

Colorectal Cancer (CRC) occurs when cells mutate and divide too quickly resulting in a tumor. The tumor can block the colon and grow into nearby organs. Symptoms may include:

  • abdominal pain
  • change in bowel habits
  • blood in the stool
  • unexplained anemia/fatigue

Although hemorrhoids cannot lead to colon cancer, they may produce symptoms similar to colon cancer. CRC may be present with no symptoms, as well, making regular screening important for early detection.

Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors

Risk for developing colorectal cancer increases with age, and it is most commonly diagnosed in people over the age of 50.

Risk factors include:

  • Having a family member who has been diagnosed with colorectal cancer (especially a first degree relative)
  • History of precancerous polyps (known as adenomas)
  • History of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) such as ulcerative colitis and to a lesser extent Crohns disease.
  • African-Americans have a higher rate of colon cancer.
  • A high fat, low fiber diet
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol use

Preventive Measures for Colorectal Cancer

Although heredity plays a role in colorectal cancer, there are measures patients can take to help reduce their risk for developing the disease. According to the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG), screening for CRC should begin at age 45 for average-risk patients—those without a family history of colorectal cancer.

Those at higher risk due to race, family history, or IBD should be considered for screening at an earlier age. A higher risk due to family history includes anyone who has a first-degree family member with a history of colon cancer – a parent or sibling, specifically. And patients with features of a hereditary syndrome associated with CRC should discuss genetic counseling with their physician.

Maintain a Healthy Digestive Tract

Other preventive measures that help to support and maintain a healthy digestive tract and to minimize inflammation include:

  • Increasing daily fiber intake. Good sources of fiber include whole grains, beans, nuts, fruits, vegetables and oatmeal. Fiber plays a very important role in colon health by normalizing bowel movements. The recommended dietary allowance is to eat 20-35 grams of fiber a day, but to reach that level, increase your intake gradually. Too much, too quickly can cause abdominal cramping, bloating, gas and constipation.
  • Drink water. Drink sufficient amounts of water to stay hydrated and to help the fiber do its job.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine. Limit alcohol and caffeine intake, which can contribute to dehydration and can cause constipation.
  • Limit red meat. Reduce your intake of high fat foods, such as red meat and animal fat, which may contribute to inflammation.
  • Exercise. Regular exercise can help to normalize bowel movements.

There are some studies that show postmenopausal hormone therapy, vitamin D, aspirin, and eating fish may help to reduce your risk for colon cancer.

Discuss Health Changes With Your Doctor

Above all, talk with your doctor if you have any risk factors or persistent symptoms. It is important to tell your doctor what color your stool is, because dark-colored or black stool may indicate the presence of blood. Your doctor can then advise you on the appropriate screening tests as well as on the appropriate lifestyle measures that can help you to improve your health.

Take a quick online survey to determine your colon cancer risk score, screening recommendations, and personalized family tree.