This article is the part of a monthly series of stories focused on cancer issues. Denver7 is proud to partner with the American Cancer Society, Cancer Support Community, Colorado Cancer Coalition and Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at HealthONE to bring you these stories, tips and resources.
DENVER -- In Colorado, nearly 2,000 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year. Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S. And while the overall death rate for colorectal cancer continues to drop, deaths from colorectal cancer in people younger than age 55 have increased 1% per year from 2007 and 2016.
The good news? Colon cancer and rectal cancer can be prevented. Colorectal cancer screening can also detect cancer early — when it is most curable. As more people have taken advantage of routine colorectal cancer screening, incidence rates have decreased. Important screening tests, like a colonoscopy, allow doctors to remove colorectal polyps before they become cancerous.
Many people with colorectal cancer have no symptoms at all. That’s because symptoms often only begin to occur when the cancer is more advanced.
Possible signs of colorectal cancer include:
- Blood (either bright red or very dark) in the stool
- Change in bowel habits
- Constant tiredness or anemia
- Diarrhea, constipation, or feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
- General abdominal discomfort (frequent gas pains, bloating, fullness, or cramps)
- Stools that are narrower than usual
- Weight loss with no known reason
If you have these symptoms, it is important to see your doctor for a physical examination, blood tests and a colonoscopy.
The risk of colorectal cancer increases with age. About 90% of colorectal cancer cases are diagnosed in women and men age 50 and older. Some of the risk factors for colorectal are lifestyle factors that it may be possible for you to change. These include:
- Little or no physical activity
- Moderate to heavy alcohol use
- Eating a lot of red or processed meat
- Not getting enough calcium
- Not eating enough whole grains, fruit and vegetables.
Other risk factors you have no control over. These include:
- A personal history of polyps in the colon family history of colorectal cancer and/or polyps
- A personal history of cancer of the ovary, endometrium (lining of the uterus) or breast.
- Chronic inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn disease)
- Type 2 diabetes
- Inherited genetic conditions, such as Lynch syndrome, also known as hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), and familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP).
Knowing you have an inherited genetic condition or a family history of certain cancers that suggests you may be at increased risk for colorectal cancer is important because it affects the age you should begin screening, the type of screening you receive, and how often you are screened.
The American Cancer Society recommends screening start at age 45 for people with average risk, while US Preventive Services Task Force still recommends screening starting at age 50.
All adults (men AND women) should be screened for adenomatous polyps and cancer. People with higher risk, either because of another condition or family history, should work with a doctor to develop a more individualized screening plan.
There are a variety of screening options for colorectal cancer, from a sensitive test that looks for cancer in the stool to an exam that looks at the rectum and the colon. The best test is the test that gets done, and men and women should talk with their doctor about options. For screening details visit the American Cancer Society.
Regular colorectal cancer screening is one of the key ways to prevent colorectal cancer. Other things that people can do to reduce their risk for colorectal cancer include:
- Staying at a healthy weight and avoiding weight gain
- Regular moderate physical activity and also increasing the intensity and amount of physical activity
- Eating more fruits and vegetables and limiting red and processed meat
- Avoiding smoking and limiting excess alcohol
The American Cancer Society has more information on prevention and reducing the risk of colorectal cancer.