Colorectal cancer is the second deadliest cancer in the country. The American Cancer Society (ACS) predicts in 2023, an estimated 153,020 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in the U.S., and 52,550 people will die from the disease.
Fortunately, colorectal cancer is also one of the most preventable. Screening can save lives, especially with an early diagnosis. Colorectal cancer screening can find precancerous polyps — abnormal growths in the colon or rectum — that can be removed before they turn into cancer.
Doctors are finding more serious cases. In 2019, 60% of all new colorectal diagnoses were advanced – that is an 8% increase from the mid-2000s. As with almost all cancers, the earlier it is found, the more likely the treatment will be successful.
Diagnosis in younger patients
- New data shows younger adults are increasingly being diagnosed with colorectal cancer. In 2019, 20% of people diagnosed with colorectal cancer were under the age of 55, which is double what it was in 1995.
- The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends colorectal screening start at age 45. That recommendation changed from age 50 to 45 in 2021, after the number of colorectal cancer cases began to rise in that age group.
How to reduce your risk of colon and rectal cancer
1. Get screened:
- Start screenings by age 45 for those with average risk.
- People at higher risk for colorectal cancer may need to start screening before age 45. They may also need to be screened more often or get specific tests. People who think or know they are at higher risk should talk to their doctor.
- You may also need to get a colonoscopy earlier if you have a personal or family history of polyps or colorectal cancer, or if you have symptoms such as abdominal pain or discomfort, change in bowel habits, rectal bleeding, or unexplained weight loss.
- A polyp can take as many as 10 to 15 years to develop into cancer. Not all polyps are cancerous, but they can become cancerous in the future. That’s why it’s important to identify and remove them.
Types of colorectal screenings:
- A colonoscopy is recommended as the first choice for screening and is typically done every 10 years.
- At-home stool tests are also an option. These tests are convenient and easy. Depending on the test, these are done every year or every three years.
- Talk to your doctor about which screening options are best for you.
2. Eat right and get active:
- Lifestyle factors that may increase your risk: obesity, a diet high in processed foods, a low-fiber and high-fat diet, and a lack of regular physical activity.
- Research shows diets rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains are associated with a lower risk of colon or rectal cancer.
- The American Cancer Society recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week.
- Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your risk.
3. Quit smoking:
- People who have smoked tobacco for a long time are more likely to develop colorectal cancer with an increased risk of death than people who don’t smoke.
4. Avoid or limit alcohol:
- Alcohol use has been linked with a higher risk of cancers of the colon and rectum.
Because colorectal cancer is often slow to develop, understanding your risk factors and early detection are key to better outcomes.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer:
When colorectal cancer first develops, there may be no symptoms. But as the cancer grows, it can cause changes that people should watch for:
- Changes in the frequency of bowel movements
- Diarrhea, constipation, or feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
- Bright red or very dark blood in the stool
- Stools that are narrower than usual
- General abdominal discomfort such as frequent gas pains, bloating, fullness, and/or cramps
- Weight loss with no known reason
- Constant tiredness
It’s important to speak with a doctor about colorectal cancer and the importance of early detection. For more information, visit healthcare.ascension.org.
Dr. Therese Kerwel is a colon and rectal surgeon and a general surgeon with Ascension Medical Group Wisconsin. She sees patients at the Elmbrook Medical Arts Center, 17000 W. North Avenue in Brookfield, and Ascension Medical Group Wisconsin – Franklin Medical Office Building, 9969 S. 27th St. in Franklin. For appointments call 262-785-7740.
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