Fitness Facts: Colorectal cancer
By Connie Colbert
Director, Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic
Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the United States. There are more than 200,000 new cases each year and more than one million total cases.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS):
“When colorectal cancer is found at an early stage before it has spread, the five-year relative survival rate is about 90 percent. But only about 4 out of 10 colorectal cancers are found at this early stage. When cancer has spread outside the colon or rectum, survival rates are lower.
“Unfortunately, about 1 in 3 people in the U.S. who should get tested for colorectal cancer have never been screened. This may be because they don’t know that regular testing could save their lives from this disease, or due to things like cost and health insurance coverage issues.”
March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, which makes this a good time to spotlight early detection. Screening could prevent more than half of the deaths that occur.
What does screening mean and how can you obtain it? I’m glad you asked!
Screening is the process of looking for cancer in people who have no symptoms.
According to the American Cancer Society screening can be separated into two groups:
- Stool-based tests:These tests check the stool (feces) for signs of cancer. These tests are less invasive and easier to have done, but they need to be done more often.
- Visual (structural) exams:These tests look at the structure of the colon and rectum for any abnormal areas. This is done either with a scope (a tube-like instrument with a light and tiny video camera on the end) put into the rectum or with special imaging (X-ray) tests.
There are pros and cons to each screening tool, but the importance is that you choose one. Also, a good thing to understand before choosing the stool-based test is that if any of these tests are positive, then a visual exam (colonoscopy) will be needed to see if there is cancer.
Prevention and early detection are the keys. Understanding your risk and implementing preventative measures, such as living a healthy lifestyle are imperative.
Know your risk? People with an increased risk include:
- Those with a personal or family history of colorectal polyps or cancer
- Those with a personal history of breast, uterine or ovarian cancer
- Those with chronic ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
- African Americans have the highest colorectal cancer incidence and mortality rates of all racial groups in the U.S. The reasons for this are not fully understood.
- Jews of Eastern European descent (Ashkenazi Jews) have one of the highest colorectal cancer risks of any ethnic group in the world.
- Being overweight
- Physical inactivity
- Diets high in red meats (beef, pork, lamb and liver) and processed meats (such as hot dogs and some lunch meats)
- People with Type 2 Diabetes
- Heavy alcohol use: Limiting to two drinks in men and one in women daily can decrease your risk of many cancers
- Your risk of colorectal cancer goes up as you age. Younger adults can get it, but it’s much more common after age 50.
When should I get screened:
- If you are age 50 to 75, you should get screened for colorectal cancer.
- The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that screening should begin at age 50. Some groups recommend starting earlier, at age 45.
- The clear majority of new cases of colorectal cancer (about 90 percent) occur in people who are 50 or older. But if you have multiple risk factors, especially a close family member with a history of colorectal cancer before the age of 50, screening is even more important.
- If you think you may be at increased risk for colorectal cancer, learn your family health history and ask your doctor if you should begin screening before age 50.
Get screened and spread the word! This is the most effective way to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer!