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What you should know about preventing and detecting colorectal cancer

What you should know about preventing and detecting colorectal cancer
What you should know about preventing and detecting colorectal cancer

No one ever wants to visit the doctor and hear the “c-word.” Cancer is a scary diagnosis, especially if you haven’t noticed any signs or symptoms. There’s more awareness than ever surrounding some cancers, like breast cancer, but others don’t receive as much media attention.

The American Cancer Society estimates that there are over 50,000 deaths from colorectal cancer each year, and that the overall lifetime risk of developing colon or rectal cancer is 1 in 20. Unlike some cancers, though, colorectal cancer is preventable through regular screening and lifestyle changes. Everyone is susceptible to the colorectal cancer, so it’s important to know the risk factors for the disease, and the changes you can make in your life to prevent it. 

What are the risk factors for colorectal cancer?

There are a number of conditions that can put you at a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer. According to Fight Colorectal Cancer, an advocacy and research group dedicated to finding a cure, Over 90% of people diagnosed with colorectal cancer are over age 50, as the body is more likely to generate polyps that can make normal tissue cancerous. Genetics also play a key factor in colorectal cancer risk. Certain genetically inherited conditions and disorders, like Crohn’s colitis can also make you more susceptible.   

How is colorectal cancer detected?

The most important way to prevent colorectal cancer is to be screened regularly. Your doctor will perform a digital exam or take a stool sample in order to determine if you need further screening, most likely a colonoscopy, to thoroughly examine the rectum and entire colon for polyps. If your doctor detects abnormal polyps during a routine colonoscopy, he will biopsy them to determine if they are cancerous. Most experts recommend that everyone have a colonoscopy at age 50, but those with a family history of the disease should begin screenings sooner.

How can I prevent colorectal cancer?

There are a number of lifestyle changes that can help reduce your overall risk of developing colorectal cancer. Eating a healthy diet, particularly one rich in fiber, will keep your colon healthy along with the rest of your body. Studies show that for every 10 grams of fiber consumed each day, the risk of colorectal cancer decreases by 10%. The American Institute For Cancer Research also indicates that smaller lifestyle changes, like getting more exercise and cutting back on red meat and alcohol can reduce your risk of developing colorectal cancer.

What are the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer can come without warning, meaning that you may experience no symptoms if the disease is detected early. A change in bowel movements, blood in the stool, or unexplained weight loss could indicate colorectal cancer. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, regardless of age, it’s best to be evaluated by a medical professional. Early detection is key with colorectal cancer. The survival rate for patients whose cancer is detected in Stage 1 is around 74%, and that rate decreases to only 6% for patients in Stage 4 of colorectal cancer. A yearly colonoscopy is likely the best way to catch colorectal cancer early and increase your chances of beating the disease.

As with most diseases, an ounce of cancer prevention is potentially worth a lifetime of cure. Regular screenings and communication with your doctor is the best way to prevent colorectal cancers, especially if you’re at an increased risk. This cancer may not be great dinner conversation, but knowing your risk factors and prevention plan could save your life.

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