Colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable cancers and, at the same time, the nation’s second-leading cause of cancer deaths. While the cancer can affect both men and women, men have an increased incidence of colorectal cancer and are more likely to develop it at an earlier age and die from it. Colorectal screening procedures have an important role in preventing and treating colorectal cancer, yet screening rates remain inadequate.
A disturbing fact has come to light about colorectal cancer in a recent study by the American Cancer Society. The study revealed there has been a steady increase of incidence in every generation born since 1950. While the overall incidence of colorectal cancer continues to decline, younger adults’ risk of colorectal cancer is higher than it has been for their counterparts in past generations, though younger adults have a comparably low risk of getting the cancer compared to those 50 and older.
News of this trend has caused a lot of speculation about how younger generations should prepare for this problem and whether the medical community should change standards for screening. Interestingly, too, most of the young people in the study diagnosed with colorectal cancer did not have a family history, and their cases were considered sporadic. Experts don’t entirely know the reason for that, but there’s some supposition that it’s related to dietary changes, exercise changes, obesity and a number of other health factors.
Across all ages, what health professionals and experts agree on is that in the fight to prevent, treat and manage colorectal cancer, it is important to know the symptoms and if possible your family history and to seek medical help. Again, if caught early, these types of cancers are very treatable.
Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know About Colorectal Cancer
What is colorectal cancer?
Cancer describes abnormal, uncontrollable cell growth. Colorectal cancer is a cancer that originates in the colon (intestine or large bowel) or rectum (connects the colon to the anus).
What are some non-modifiable risk factors for colorectal cancer?
• Age: Although it can occur at any age, according to the Colon Cancer Alliance, 90 percent of new cases occur in people 50 or older; and the median age of diagnosis in men is 68 years and in women 72 years.
• Ethnicity and race: Black people and Jews of eastern European descent have an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer
• Family history of colon polyps, colorectal cancer: In particular when it is a first-degree relative and, too, if they are diagnosed at a young age
• Having inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
What are warning signs for colorectal cancer?
During early stages, there are few and, oftentimes, no symptoms. And warning signs are nonspecific for colorectal cancer (in medicine this means the sign or symptom is not assignable to a particular cause, condition or disease). They include:
• Change in bowel habits (diarrhea, constipation) that lasts longer than 4 weeks
• Narrower-than-usual stool
• Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool
• Persistent gas, abdominal pain, bloating, feeling full or cramps
• Unexplained weight loss
• Weakness or fatigue
• Nausea or vomiting
If you are experiencing these, it is important to consult with your health care provider so they can help decipher the cause and if further testing is needed.
Why is early detection crucial?
Colorectal cancer is considered one of the most preventable and highly treatable cancers. Being vigilant, with appropriate screening, is key to catching and removing polyps (pre-cancerous growths) inside the colon and rectum. If cancer is present, the earlier it is detected, the greater the chances of survival.
What screening tests are available?
There are a number of options, and you should decide which one is best for you with your healthcare provider. The most common screening test is a colonoscopy — a procedure that allows your gastroenterologist to examine the inner lining of your rectum and colon, take biopsies (tissue samples), and even remove polyps.
What are current colonoscopy screening guidelines?
Regular colonoscopy screenings in people without risk factors should begin at age 50 and age 45 in black people. If risk factors are present, it is important to discuss with your doctor if you should begin screening at an earlier age.
Repeat screening is performed every 7 to 10 years until the age of 75 in those with a negative test. Abnormal tests require more frequent screening (and, too, risk factors may mean more frequent screenings).
What should I expect from a colonoscopy?
Prior to your colonoscopy, intravenous fluids are started to provide hydration and allow for sedative medications to be administered. You will be placed on monitors that continuously display your heart rate and rhythm, blood pressure and oxygen levels. Supplemental oxygen is delivered via a nasal cannula or mask.
What preventive actions should be taken?
While you cannot change your genes, and in some cases, your environment — you do have control over your lifestyle (and the choices you make), what we call “modifiable” risk factors.
A healthy lifestyle is key in prevention.
• Eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruit and veggies that contain fiber, vitamins and nutrients. Studies have shown doing so can decrease your risk for colorectal cancer and other cancers.
• Reduce consumption of processed and sugary foods as well as red meat
• Stop smoking (or don’t start); no amount of smoking is good for you
• Maintain a healthy weight
• Be physically active: If you are sedentary or don’t move much, start taking a walk around the block and do it for a week or two, and then make it two blocks. Start moving!
• Avoid heavy use of alcohol
It’s important that families discuss their medical histories with each other. In some situations, families don’t like to talk about these issues, but it’s important to share the information so the next generation knows and can be properly evaluated. For anyone at any age, when discussing care with your doctor, it is important to be very forthright about any problem. Talk to your doctor about screening. Timely screening and early detection when signs appear allow for early detection.
Dr. Nina Radcliff, of Galloway Township, is a physician anesthesiologist, television medical contributor and textbook author. Email questions on general medical topics to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article is for general information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions and cannot substitute for the advice of your medical professional. Radcliff has used all reasonable care in compiling the current information, but it may not apply to you and your symptoms. Always consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions.