Colorectal cancer – cancer of the colon and rectum – affects men and women about equally and is the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Sadly, more than half of all colorectal cancer deaths could have been prevented through colon cancer screening. Getting screened is your best medical defense against colorectal cancer because it’s one of the few cancers detectable in a precancerous state.
For years, we recommended those at average risk should start screening at age 50. However, new guidelines recommend men and women at average risk for colorectal cancer be screened starting at age 45.
“If you have a close relative with colorectal cancer or you have an inflammatory bowel disease, you may need to start screening at a younger age and be screened more often,” explains Dr. Muhammed Nathani, chief of Gastroenterology at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic. “At Kelsey-Seybold, we offer a variety of colorectal cancer screening techniques depending on the individual patient’s situation. Colonoscopy is considered the ‘gold standard’ as the screening technique most preferred by the American College of Gastroenterology.”
Colorectal cancer is 90% treatable and beatable in early stages
Fear, embarrassment, and confusion about insurance benefits are among the reasons people don’t get screened for colorectal cancer at its earliest stage. But the key to beating this disease is through medical detection when it’s most treatable. Here’s why: Most colon cancers begin as a benign polyp. If the polyp is detected and removed soon enough, most colon cancers can be prevented from forming – hence the importance of recommended preventive screenings.
Don’t wait for symptoms to be screened
The most perplexing barrier to early detection of colorectal cancer is the lack of clear symptoms. The primary symptom – rectal bleeding or blood in the stool – might be attributed to hemorrhoids, ulcerative colitis, or inflammatory bowel disease. Other symptoms include a change in bowel habits, persistent abdominal cramping, chronic diarrhea or constipation, and unusual fatigue. Once there’s blood in the stool or other symptoms become noticeable, cancerous polyps could have been developing for 10 years or more.
5 Ways to Help Reduce Your Risk
While screening is pivotal to preventing colorectal cancer, you can also make the following lifestyle choices to help reduce your chances of developing this disease.
- Achieve or maintain a healthy weight. Excess body fat is linked to a higher risk of colorectal cancer.
- Exercise regularly. Staying active and getting between 75 and 150 minutes of exercise per week can help reduce your risk of many diseases, including colorectal cancer.
- Eat a healthy diet. Limit your consumption of red meat to less than 18 ounces per week, and increase your consumption of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Avoid processed meats, such as hot dogs and bacon.
- Cut down on alcohol. Women should limit themselves to one drink per day and men should limit to two drinks per day. (One drink is considered 12 ounces of beer, 1.5 ounces of liquor, or 5 ounces of wine.)
- Don’t smoke. Nicotine in any form is bad for your overall health and significantly increases your risk of developing several forms of cancer.