PHILADELPHIA (March 9, 2016) – March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and Fox Chase Cancer Center strongly urges individuals to get regular screenings for colorectal cancer. Through regular screenings, colorectal cancer may be prevented or detected early, which can make treatment more successful. Today, there are more than one million survivors of colorectal cancer in the United States.
“I cannot emphasize enough the importance of regular screenings for colorectal cancer by any of several accepted methods,” says David Weinberg, MD, Chair of Medicine and Chief of the Gastroenterology Section at Fox Chase Cancer Center. “Routine screenings are invaluable in that they may find colorectal cancer in individuals with no symptoms of the disease.”
In fact, dozens of health-related organizations are pooling their resources to increase the nation’s colon cancer screening rate to 80% by the year 2018. “80% by 2018” is an effort recently launched by the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable (NCCRT), which was co-founded by the American Cancer Society and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to reduce colon cancer incidence and death rates.
For most adults, the American Cancer Society recommends screening starting at age 50. “Those at higher risk, such as persons with a family history of colorectal cancer or a personal history of colorectal polyps or gastrointestinal disease, may need to get screened earlier or more frequently,” Weinberg said. “I advise these individuals to speak with their physicians about what is right for them.”
The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that in 2016, there will be 95,270 new cases of colon cancer and 39,220 new cases of rectal cancer in the U.S. Overall, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 21 for men and 1 in 23 for women.
Lifestyle-Related Risk Factors for Colorectal Cancer
While some risk factors for colorectal cancer cannot be changed—such as being older or a having a family history of colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer—other risk factors are lifestyle-related and can be controlled. According to the ACS, the links between diet, weight, and exercise and colorectal cancer risk are some of the strongest for any type of cancer.
- Being Overweight or Obese. Persons who are overweight or obese have an increased risk of developing and dying from colorectal cancer.
- Lack of physical activity. Inactive individuals are more likely to develop colorectal cancer. Getting regular physical activity may lower one’s risk.
- Certain types of diets. A diet high in red meats (such as beef, pork, lamb, or liver) and processed meats (hot dogs and some luncheon meats) can increase colorectal cancer risk. Diets high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains have been linked to a decreased risk.
- Alcohol and tobacco use. Long-term smokers are more likely than non-smokers to develop and die from colorectal cancer. Heavy alcohol users also have a high chance of developing the disease. The ACS advises that adults consume no more than two drinks per day.
The most common symptoms of colorectal cancer include:
- A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation, that lasts for more than a few days
- A feeling that your bowel does not empty completely
- Rectal bleeding, dark stool, or blood in the stool
- Cramping or stomach pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
“Although many of these symptoms may be caused by conditions other than colorectal cancer, it’s important to see your doctor right away if you experience any of them so that the actual cause can be determined,” Weinberg said. “No symptom should be overlooked.”