March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, a month dedicated to providing information and increasing awareness about colon and rectal cancers. Affecting approximately 1 out of 23 individuals, colorectal cancer is a cancer that starts in either the colon or the rectum, usually with the growth of a polyp. And while the risk of colorectal cancer increases with age, colorectal cancer rates have increased for those between the ages of 20 - 49, and it is important that all adults know the facts about colorectal cancer.
Age - The risk for colorectal cancer increases with age. This may be the result of time exposed to certain compounds that raise the risk or changes at the cellular level of the body.
Personal/Family Medical History - A family history of polyps or colorectal cancer increases your risk. Personal history of polyps or inflammatory bowel diseases may also increase your risk. Inflammatory intestinal diseases include Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Diet - A diet that is high in red meat, processed meats, and saturated fats and one that is low in fiber, fruits and vegetables increases the risk for colorectal cancer. In addition, fried, broiled, grilled or charred foods may also increase the risk, the cancer- causing compound created by cooking foods at very high heat. While more research needs to be done to determine the risk, evidence does point to marinating your meat before cooking to reduce the risk.
Weight and Activity - Being overweight or obese increases the risk of colorectal cancer. A sedentary lifestyle is also linked to an increased risk.
Smoking nd Alcohoal - Smoking increases the risk of many types of cancers, including colorectal cancer. Drinking more than two drinks a day (men) or one drink a day (women) is associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer.
Screening is recommended beginning at age 50 for most people. Anyone with a family history of colon cancer or with a personal medical history of inflammatory bowel disease may be screened earlier. Those of African American heritage are also encouraged to be screened earlier, usually starting around age 45.
Stool tests. There are a number of tests used to detect blood in the stool. If blood is detected, further testing will be required, usually a colonoscopy.
Colonoscopy. Considered the gold standard for screening, a colonoscopy is an outpatient exam of the colon using a flexible lighted scope. Patients will need to follow protocol for a number of days before the procedure in order to help empty the colon for the exam. The patient is sedated, and the exam takes approximately one hour. The doctor will examine the colon for polyps and remove any found for further testing and to eliminate the possibility of the polyps developing into cancer.
Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer:
- Blood in your stool or rectal bleeding.
- A change in the bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation, cannot be traced to changes in diet and is persistent.
- Losing weight without a known cause.
- Exhaustion without a known cause.
- Abdominal pain or discomfort that is ongoing.
Those in the early stages of colorectal cancer may not experience any symptoms.
Discuss with your doctor your risk factors and what screenings are right for you and contact your doctor if you have any concerns about your digestive health.