PHILADELPHIA (March 1, 2018) – March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and Fox Chase Cancer Center encourages individuals to get a colorectal cancer screening. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in patients in the U.S. and the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths. Average lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 22 for men and 1 in 24 for women.
“Regular screening continues to be the best defense against colorectal cancer. It can detect pre-cancerous growths as well as cancer, which is highly treatable if caught early,” said David Weinberg, MD, chair of medicine and chief of the gastroenterology section at Fox Chase Cancer Center.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says that patients at average risk should be screened for colorectal cancer starting at age 50, and recommends colonoscopy and fecal immunochemical testing (FIT) as “first-tier” screening tests. It says that the decision to be screened after age 75 should be made on an individual basis, and those at increased risk should talk to their doctor about when to begin screening, which test is right for them, and how often to get tested.
One’s risk of getting colorectal cancer increases with age. Other uncontrollable risk factors include having:
- Inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- A personal or family history of colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps
- A genetic syndrome, such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome)
Several lifestyle factors may contribute to an increased risk of colorectal cancer. According to the ACS, individuals can help lower their risk for colorectal cancer by making certain lifestyle changes. Recommendations include:
- Maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding weight gain around the midsection. Being overweight or obese raises the risk of colorectal cancer, with the link seeming to be stronger in men. Having more belly fat (a larger waistline) has also been linked to colorectal cancer.
- Increasing the intensity and frequency of physical activity. Physically inactive individuals have a greater chance of developing colorectal cancer. An increased activity level can lower the risk of colorectal cancer and polyps.
- Eating more fruits and vegetables and limiting red and processed meats. Diets high in red meats (beef, pork and lamb) and processed meats (hot dogs, sausage and lunch meats) have been found to increase risk for colorectal cancer. Diets high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains have been linked with a decreased risk.
- Quitting smoking and limiting alcohol. Long-term smoking is linked to a higher risk of colorectal cancer, in addition to many other cancers and health problems. Some studies have found a higher risk of colorectal cancer associated with increased alcohol intake, especially among men.
“Many individuals with colorectal cancer show no signs in the early stages of the disease,” said Weinberg. “When symptoms do appear, they vary.” Symptoms include:
- A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation, that lasts longer than a few days
- A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that doesn’t go away after doing so
- Rectal bleeding, dark stool, or blood in the stool
- Cramping or stomach pain
- Weakness and fatigue
“I advise everyone to see their doctor right away if they experience any symptoms at all, even if they feel other conditions may be the cause,” said Weinberg.