Colorectal Cancer Prevention and Screening
Colorectal cancer is a common and deadly disease for men and women. It also is one of the most preventable forms of cancer.
- Colorectal cancer can happen without symptoms.
- Five percent of people will get colorectal cancer in their lifetime.
- Each year, nearly 150,000 people in the United States learn they have colorectal cancer.
- One in three people who are diagnosed will die of this disease.
- Studies show that colonoscopy screening cuts down on colon cancer deaths.
These factors can make your chances of getting colon cancer higher:
Age - risk is higher as people get older. General screening recommendations begin at age 50. African Americans are at greater risk and should begin screening at age 45.
Family history - having a close relative (parent, brother, sister or child) who has had colorectal cancer. The number of family members and an early age of having colorectal cancer also will make your chances greater.
Polyps - polyps can be non-cancerous, but may become cancerous over time. People with a history of pre-cancerous polyps have a higher chance of getting colorectal cancer.
Inflammatory bowel disease - people with Crohn’s disease of the colon or ulcerative colitis.
Lifestyle - eating a high-fat, low-fiber and red meat diet, lack of exercise, being overweight, smoking cigarettes or using alcohol.
Colorectal cancer warning signs may include:
- Stomach pain;
- Change in bowel habits (constipation or diarrhea);
- Blood in the stool;
- Feeling weak or tired;
- Low iron level (iron-deficiency anemia);
- Unexplained weight loss.
These symptoms also can be caused by other problems such as ulcers, an inflamed colon or hemorrhoids. If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor to find the cause.
For good colorectal health:
- Eat a diet that is low in fat and high in fruits, vegetables and fiber;
- Stay at a recommended body weight;
- Avoid smoking and using too much alcohol;
- Take calcium and vitamin D;
- Take a multivitamin with folate;
- Track cancers or polyps in parents, brothers and sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins;
- Plan your cancer screening check up with your doctor;
- Take aspirin daily, unless your doctor does not recommend it; and
- Exercise daily.
A screening colonoscopy can prevent colorectal cancer by removing polyps before they are cancerous. The earlier it’s detected, the better your chance of survival. Talk with your doctor about the screening tools and what is right for you.
- A colonoscopy, every 10 years, starting at age 50. This exam uses a hollow, lighted tube to see the rectum and the colon. This is the best screening choice we have.
- A flexible sigmoidoscopy, as recommended, to see the rectum and lower part of the colon. This test only sees polyps in the lower third of the colon.
- Preferred test - a fecal immunochemical test (FIT) or the fecal occult blood test (FOBT) as recommended. These tests check for blood in the stool that is not visible to you.
Before scheduling these screening tests, check your health plan benefits.
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