Colorectal cancer is the second deadliest cancer in the U.S., partly because it often goes undiagnosed. Polyps can silently develop in the colon or rectum and become malignant. For this reason, knowing and addressing your risk factors and undergoing the recommended screenings before any symptoms develop is crucial.
Risk factors of colorectal cancer include:
- family history of the disease
- a low-fiber, high-fat diet
- inflammatory intestinal conditions such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis
- obesity (BMI of 30 or greater)
- ignoring the warning signs
How to reduce your risk
Get a colonoscopy as recommended
Colonoscopy is the most sensitive screening available for identifying colon cancer and precancerous polyps. The American Cancer Society recommends those who are at average risk for colon cancer should start getting a colonoscopy at age 45. If there is colorectal cancer in your family history, then your doctor may recommend starting earlier. If no polyps are found at your first colonoscopy, you likely will only need to repeat the screening every 10 years. If polyps are found, you may need a colonoscopy more frequently, every three to five years.
Know your family history
Talk to your immediate family members about their health history and how it affects your risk for colorectal cancer. Start the conversation by asking about all cancers and colon polyps that run in the family. Start getting colonoscopies at age 50 or earlier if a parent or sibling had colon cancer.
Watch your diet
A low-fat, high-fiber diet gives food extra bulk that helps your body move toxins and waste through the digestive tract. Adult men and women should consume between 25 and 38 grams of fiber per day from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
If you have an inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, establish a relationship with a gastroenterologist
Working with a specialist will help a person with inflammatory bowel disease monitor medications, overall digestive health, and any additional preventive screenings you might need.
While smoke enters your lungs, particulates can be swallowed and absorbed in the digestive tract. Giving up smoking can help reduce your risk for the two cancers that cause the most deaths: lung cancer and colorectal cancer.
Being active and exercising daily helps the body move waste through the digestive tract and encourages regular bowel movements. The American Cancer Society recommends at least 30 minutes of physical activity five or more days per week. The results are even greater when workouts are 45 to 60 minutes long.
Colorectal cancer has warning signs; listen to your body
See your physician if you experience:
- prolonged diarrhea, constipation or vomiting
- blood in the stool
- changes in bowel habits
- abdominal cramping
- unexplained weight loss
Learn more about the diagnosis and treatment of colorectal cancer at The Christ Hospital.