Colorectal cancer actually refers to two parts of the body: the colon and the rectum. Treatment options are often very similar so they’re typically bundled together when explaining prevention, detection and treatment options for either colon cancer or rectal cancer.
Thankfully because of new technologies and greater awareness of screening, the death rate from colorectal cancer has been dropping for decades. Here are some things you should know about how to reduce your personal risk of developing colorectal cancer.
Colorectal Cancer Can be Genetic
About one in five people who develop rectal or colon cancer have a close relative (parent, sibling or child) who has had colorectal cancer or a certain kind of colon polyp called adenomatous. If someone in your family has been diagnosed with this type of polyp you should talk to your doctor about starting colorectal cancer screening sooner than the typical age of 50.
There can also be a genetic cause of colorectal cancer for about 5-10% of colorectal cancer patients. If someone in your immediate family has been diagnosed, especially if they were diagnosed before the age of 45, you may want to talk to one of our cancer experts about a Genetic Risk Assessment. Knowing whether there are genetic changes present can help your doctor with recommending preventive measures and screening in the future.
Other Risk Factors For Developing Colorectal Cancer
There are quite a few other factors that can play into whether you’re at an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer. Some you can control while others you cannot.
Risk factors you can control to help prevent colorectal cancer include:
- Heavy alcohol use
Risk factors for colorectal cancer you cannot control in addition to your family history include:
- Age – Your risk increases after the age of 50.
- Race – African Americans have the highest death rate from colorectal cancer compared to all other races.
- Type 2 Diabetes – Those with Type 2 Diabetes are at an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer.
Regular Colorectal Cancer Screenings Save Lives
Even if you don’t have a family history, colorectal cancer specialists recommend that adults get screened between the ages of 50 and 75. The older you are, the higher your risk for developing the disease. While a colonoscopy is the most commonly used colorectal screening process, there are several other options such as:
- Sigmoidoscopy every five years. The doctor uses a flexible, lighted tube to check for polyps, remove them and have them tested. Unlike a colonoscopy, this test doesn’t require you to have anesthesia.
- Virtual colonoscopy every five years. This test does not require anesthesia either. A doctor takes X-rays of your colon, and a specialist looks for signs of cancer.
- Barium enema every five years. For people who can’t safely have a colonoscopy, a liquid is inserted into the rectum that allows trained technicians to see abnormal growths on an X-ray.
You Can Reduce Your Risks
Whether you have a family history of colorectal cancer or not, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing the disease. These lifestyle changes include:
- Get screened. Screenings find polyps that can be removed before they become cancerous.
- Exercise. Overweight people have a higher risk of colon cancer.
- Watch your diet. Eating lots of red meat or processed meats (like hot dogs) may increase your risk of colon cancer.
- Don’t smoke (or stop smoking). Smokers have a higher risk of colon cancer. An added bonus of quitting smoking is that you will also reduce your risk of developing many other diseases and cancers.
- Limit alcohol. Heavy drinkers have a higher risk of colon cancer.
Even people who are active, eat healthy diets and have no family history of colorectal cancer may develop the disease. If you start to experience any unusual bowel movements, pain or excessive bloating be sure to schedule an appointment with your general practitioner or gastroenterologist. If they find colorectal cancer present you will need to see a colon cancer specialist for treatment. If you live in or near Maryland, Maryland Oncology Hematology has nine locations making it possible for you to meet with a colorectal cancer specialist near you.