Now is the time to raise awareness about colorectal cancer. In the United States, colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer, not including skin cancer, and the second leading cause of cancer death in men and women combined.
Colorectal cancer is a cancer possible to detect early through regular screening, which can find polyps in their precancerous stages—before they even become cancer—as well as cancer in its early, most treatable stages. Doctors at Triborough GI can remove abnormal growths in the colon or rectum before the growths turn from harmless to dangerous.
When polyps are detected in early stages (stage I or II), colorectal cancer is extremely treatable. When caught in its precancerous stage, colorectal cancer is even preventable. There are usually no symptoms in early stages of colorectal cancer, so you may not know you have cancer or precancerous polyps—which is why early screening is so important.
Anyone can develop this cancer, but your risk rises if you have a close relative who has had it, if you have a personal history of colorectal polyps or colorectal or ovarian cancer, or if you have inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. Certain genetic mutations like familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or Lynch syndrome also increase your risk. As you age, your risk also increases, particularly for those over 50 years old.
Some risk factors are under your control, such as: smoking, being overweight or having obesity; eating a diet high in red meats or processed meats, physical inactivity, and heavy alcohol consumption (more than one alcoholic drink per day for women and more than two for men).
I want to stress the importance of early detection of colorectal cancer through screening, as well as healthy lifestyle behaviors and awareness of the signs and symptoms of this disease.
Here are some symptoms of colorectal cancer to watch for:
- A change in bowel habits: diarrhea, constipation, or narrow stools that last more than a few days
- Rectal bleeding
- Dark stools
- Blood in your stool
- Cramps or abdominal pain
- Unintentional weight loss
- Weakness or fatigue
Risk factors for colon cancer
In addition to being aware of symptoms, you should discuss colon cancer screenings with your physician if you have any of the following risk factors:
- Having a personal history of colon or rectal cancer, adenomatous polyps, chronic inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
- Having a strong family history of colon or rectal cancer, or polyps, especially a first-degree relative such as a parent, sibling or child or multiple second-degree relatives
Finally, be aware that certain lifestyle factors may also increase your risk for colon cancer:
- Diets high in meat and low in fruits, vegetables and whole grains
- Heavy alcohol intake
- Physical inactivity
It’s important to be aware of all the options in addition to colonoscopy that you may consider – and all are recommended equally by leading preventive health care guidelines:
- Multitarget stool DNA test (Cologuard), in which a stool sample is analyzed by a lab for DNA mutations and blood in the stool that could be associated with cancer or precancer
- Fecal blood test, that examines a stool sample under a microscope to look for blood in the stool
- CT colonography (also known as a virtual colonoscopy), which takes 2D or 3D scans of the lower gastrointestinal tract to check for suspicious growths
- Sigmoidoscopy, which allows your health care provider to view the lower part of the colon through a thin tube called a sigmoidoscope
When it’s time for your colorectal cancer screening, ask your health care provider which of these options is the best one for you. And, whatever you decide, know that by getting screened, you can have peace of mind knowing you are being proactive in your health. Remember that colorectal cancer is preventable when detected early.