Colon/Colorectal cancer does not receive the same attention as some higher profile cancers. Yet being the third most common cancer in the United States, we should certainly take heed. Approximately 140,000 people are diagnosed each year with colon cancer. Colorectal cancer is also the 2nd leading cause of cancer death among men and women combined in the United States.
Two important things to know:
- 1 in 3 people are not up-to-date with colorectal cancer screening.
- 60-75% of colorectal cancer deaths could be prevented with screening.
The most positive news here: It can be prevented.
Though colon cancer is very preventable, there are still a number of important risk factors to be aware of that are out of our control. Knowing which ones apply to you may help you better understand your risk and take steps to lower it. If you feel you or a loved one is at high risk, talk to a doctor or health professional.
Some risk factors include:
- Older age, especially 60 years or older
- Family history of colon cancer
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Being tall (5 feet 8 inches or taller for women; 5 feet 11 inches or taller for men)
The colon, or large intestine, is where the body extracts water and salt from solid wastes. The waste then moves through the rectum and exits the body through the anus. Colon cancer happens when tumorous growths develop in the large intestine. Rectal cancer originates in the rectum, which is the last several inches of the large intestine, closest to the anus. Colon cancer and rectal cancer may occur together. This is called colorectal cancer, also referred to as CRC.
Colorectal cancer occurs when abnormal cells form tumors in normal tissues of the intestines and digestive system. The exact type of “colon” or “rectal” cancer depends on where the abnormal cells first began and how fast they grew and spread. The main differentiator between these two cancers is where the tumor first forms, either in the rectum or in the rest of the colon.
Common symptoms of CRC:
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Changes in stool consistency
- Loose and narrow stools
- Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool
- Abdominal pain; intense cramps, bloating, or gas
- Pain during bowel movements
- Uncontrollable urges to defecate
- Weakness and fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
- (IBS) Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Anemia (severe iron deficiency)
If the cancer spreads to a new location in the body, additional symptoms can appear in the new area. The liver is most commonly affected.
Tips to help lower your risk:
1. Get Screened!
Colorectal cancer screening saves lives. It is one of only a few cancers that can be prevented through screening. More than 90 percent of cases occur in people aged 50 or older. Building awareness is an important part of helping to increase screening and decrease mortality rates.
Getting regular screening tests for colon cancer is the single best way to protect you and your loved one from the disease. It can catch cancer early, when it’s most treatable, and help prevent the disease by finding abnormal growths called polyps that can turn into cancer.
2. Maintain a Healthy Weight & Diet
Except for smoking, nothing else raises the overall risk of cancer more than being overweight. Including fresh fruits, vegetables, fiber and plenty of Omegas will help keep you healthy and keep off that extra weight. Stay away from processed foods, which contain chemicals, some which are carcinogens– which basically are cancer causing/igniting. The bowel area is especially susceptible to these toxins.
3. Stop Smoking
It hardly needs saying anymore, but not smoking is the single best thing you can do for your health. On top of raising the risk of serious diseases like heart disease, stroke and emphysema, smoking is a major cause of at least 14 different cancers, including colon cancer. If you do smoke, quitting has real benefits, which start shortly after your last cigarette. Talking to a doctor can increase your chances of success.
4. Stay Physically Active
It’s hard overestimate the importance of staying physically active. It lowers the risk of many serious diseases, including colon cancer, and provides a natural mental boost. Any amount of physical activity is better than none, but it’s good to aim for around 30 minutes or more of moderate activity each day. Choose things you enjoy, like brisk walking, cycling, dancing or gardening.
5. Drink Only Moderately, Or Not At All
Alcohol is a strange thing when it comes to health. It’s said to be heart healthy in moderation, yet it can increase the risk of colon and other cancers at even low levels. So what does this mean? If you drink moderately it’s up to one drink per day for women, two per day for men. Double or triple those numbers and you enter a new level of risk. Heavy drinkers should try to cut way down or quit.
6. Limit Red Meat (Especially Processed Meat)
Eating too much red meat greatly increases the risk of colon cancer. Processed meats like bacon, sausage and bologna, raise this risk even more. The less red meat you consume, the better chance for optimal health.
7. Get Enough Calcium and Vitamin D
There is good evidence that getting enough calcium and vitamin D can help protect against colon cancer. Some groups recommend testing for vitamin D deficiency, especially in those with increased risk of low levels, such as those living in more northern parts of the country, the elderly and overweight individuals. You don’t have to match any of these 3 to be at risk of malabsorption of these critical body nutrients.
If colorectal cancer is the number 2 most deadly cancer, why is it happening?
Studies suggest that lack of access to health care and a lack of awareness in both young patients and their doctors about the signs and symptoms of colon and rectal cancers are causing the higher incidence of malignant diagnoses.
Advances in diagnosis, screening, and treatment have led to steady improvements in survival. But most importantly, the awareness of this disease and how you can help prevent it; this is perhaps the most important factor of all.