PHILADELPHIA (March 1, 2019) – Patients, survivors, caregivers and advocates join together in March for National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in individuals (excluding skin cancers) and the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths among adults in the U.S.
In 2019, the ACS estimates 101,420 new cases of colon cancer and 44,180 new cases of rectal cancer. The disease is expected to cause about 51,020 deaths this year. One’s lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 22 (4.49%) for men and 1 in 24 (4.15%) for women.
Fox Chase Cancer Center urges adults to get regular screenings for colorectal cancer. Common screening tests include colonoscopy and fecal immunochemical testing (FIT). The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says that individuals at average risk should be screened beginning at age 50 and continuing until age 75. The decision to screen for colorectal cancer in adults aged 76 to 85 years should be an individual one, taking into account the patient’s overall health and prior screening history.
“Everyone can reduce their risk of getting colorectal cancer with regular screenings,” said David Weinberg, MD, Chair of Medicine and Chief of the Gastroenterology Section at Fox Chase Cancer Center. “Testing can detect pre-cancerous growths as well as cancer, and the disease is highly treatable if caught early.”
One’s risk of getting colorectal cancer increases with age. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 90% of cases occur in people aged 50 or older. 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)
Lifestyle factors can also contribute to an increased risk. To help lower risk for colorectal cancer:
- Stay at a healthy weight and avoid weight gain around the midsection. Being overweight or obese raises the risk of colorectal cancer. The link seems to be stronger in men. Having more belly fat (a larger waistline) has also been linked to colorectal cancer.
- Increase the intensity and frequency of physical activity. Persons who live a sedentary lifestyle have an increased chance of developing colorectal cancer. Increased activity levels can lower the risk of colorectal cancer and polyps.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables and limit red and processed meats. Diets rich in vegetables, fruits, and high-fiber grains can help reduce risk. Diets high in red meats (beef, lamb and pork) and processed meats (hot dogs, sausage and lunch meats) have been found to increase one’s risk for colorectal cancer.
- Quit smoking and limit alcohol. Quitting smoking may help lower the risk of colorectal cancer and many other types of cancer. Some studies have found a higher risk of colorectal cancer with increased alcohol intake, especially among men.
Signs and Symptoms
“Many people with colorectal cancer show no symptoms in the early stages of the disease,” said Weinberg. “When symptoms appear, they may vary, depending on the size of the cancer and location in the large intestine.” Symptoms include:
- A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation, that lasts more 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
- Unintended weight loss
“Individuals should not wait to contact their doctor if they experience any symptoms, as symptoms often appear only after the cancer has grown or spread,” said Weinberg. “That’s why regular screenings are so important. They’re the best line of defense, when the disease is easiest to treat.”