Even though cancer of the colon and rectum is a subject most of us don’t want to talk about too often, it is one that needs to be addressed for everyone, especially people over 50. Of the cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States and the third most common cancer in both men and women.
This month is colorectal cancer awareness month and this blog was written to help you understand what colorectal cancer is and how you can prevent it.
What is colorectal cancer?
Sometimes called colon cancer, for short, colorectal cancer occurs when abnormal growths, called polyps, form in the colon or rectum. Over time, some polyps may turn into cancer.
How do you get tested?
The most common screening test for colon cancer is a colonoscopy. The purpose of this screening is to find polyps so that they can be removed before turning into cancer. Screening also helps find colorectal cancer at an early stage, when treatment often leads to a cure.
The U.S. Preventive Services Taskforce recommends that adults age 50 to 75 be screened for colon cancer. People at higher risk for developing colon cancer should begin screening at a younger age, and may need to be tested more frequently.
Who is at high risk?
- Younger adults can develop colon cancer, but your chances increase significantly after you turn 50.
- People with a history of polyps are at risk, especially if the polyps are large or if there are many of them.
- If you have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including either ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, your risk of colorectal cancer is increased.
- People with a history of colon cancer in a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) are at increased risk. The risk is even higher if that relative was diagnosed with cancer when they were younger than 45, or if more than one relative is affected.
- People with type 2 diabetes have an increased risk of colon cancer.
- About 5 to 10 percent of people who develop colon cancer have inherited gene defects (mutations) that can cause family cancer syndromes and lead to them getting the disease. The American Cancer Society is a good resource for finding out more about these family syndromes.
- Your race matters. The reasons aren’t understood yet, but African Americans have the highest colon cancer incidence and mortality rates of all racial groups in the United States. The group at the highest risk in the world for colon cancer are Jewish people of Eastern European descent (Ashkenazi Jews). This is due to several inherited gene mutations.
How do you prevent colon cancer?
Screening is the number one way to prevent colon cancer. Beyond screening, lifestyle plays a huge role in preventing this type of cancer. Things you can do today to prevent colon cancer include:
Eat well—your diet should be high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains (and low in red and processed meats). Many studies have found a link between red meats (beef, pork and lamb) or processed meats (such as hot dogs, sausage and lunch meats) with an increase in colon cancer risk.
Move more—regular moderate activity (doing things that make you breathe hard) lowers your risk.
Drink less—several studies have found a higher risk of colorectal cancer with increased alcohol intake, especially among men. The American Cancer Society recommends that people who drink alcohol limit their intake to no more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink a day for women. The recommended limit is lower for women because of their smaller body size and because their bodies tend to break down alcohol more slowly.
Stop smoking—long-term smoking is linked to an increased risk of colon cancer, as well as many other cancers and health problems.
One more way to stay healthy is to sign up for CarePlus—a free concierge healthcare service. When you sign up for CarePlus our team will help you:
- find the right doctor
- get appointments quickly
- get faster access to your medical information—like lab results
- obtain referrals to specialists and the pre-authorizations you may need
- get your insurance questions answered