Colorectal Cancer Prevention
• Why – Colonoscopy can prevent colorectal cancer. According to the American College of Gastroenterology, more than 75-90% of colorectal cancer cases can be avoided through early detection and removal of pre-cancerous polyps.
• When – Screening should begin at age 50 for both men and women at average risk. Colonoscopy is recommended as a screening test every 10 years, while those with additional risk factors may be advised to start screening earlier and more frequently.
• How – Colonoscopy is the preferred screening method since it allows for both detection and removal of polyps during the same procedure. It is an outpatient procedure that involves placing a thin tube with a light and camera into the colon for a complete view. Other screening options include fecal occult blood test (FOBT), fecal immunochemical test (FIT), flexible sigmoidoscopy, CT colonography, barium enema with air contrast and stool DNA testing. Individuals should discuss these options with their doctor.
Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors
• Age – More than 90% of colorectal cancer cases occur in people 50 years old or older, however incidence is increasing in adults younger than age 50.
• Gender – Women and men have roughly the same lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer.
• Family history – As many as 1 in 5 people who develop colorectal cancer have other family members who have been affected by this disease. The risk is even higher if a relative was diagnosed under age 45, or if more than one first-degree relative has been affected.
• Racial and ethnic background – Colorectal cancer affects people of all races and ethnicities.
• Lifestyle factors – Common lifestyle factors that may increase colorectal cancer risk include: obesity; cigarette smoking; lack of exercise; overconsumption of fat, red and processed meats; not eating enough fiber, fruits and vegetables; and drinking alcohol excessively.
• Pre-existing health conditions – Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, and less common genetic syndromes such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or Lynch syndrome, significantly increase the risk of developing colon cancer. These patients are recommended to be screened younger and more frequently.
Colorectal Cancer Symptoms
While screening is the optimal prevention tool before symptoms occur, it is important to see your doctor right away if you experience:
• A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation or narrowing of the stool, lasting for more than a few days
• Rectal bleeding, dark stools or blood in the stool
• Cramping or abdominal pain
• Weakness and fatigue
• Unintended weight loss