PHILADELPHIA (March 2, 2020) – March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and Fox Chase Cancer Center encourages individuals to schedule their colorectal cancer screening. Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).
In 2019, the ACS estimated 104,610 new cases of colon cancer and 43,340 new cases of rectal cancer. The disease was expected to cause about 51,020 deaths this year. Overall, one’s lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 23 (4.4 percent) for men and 1 in 25 (4.1 percent) for women.
Common screening tests for colorectal cancer include colonoscopy and fecal immunochemical testing (FIT). According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, individuals at average risk should be screened starting 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 both precancerous growths and cancer, and the disease is highly treatable if caught early.”
Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer include:
- A change in bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation or a change in your stool
- A feeling that your bowel doesn't empty completely
- Rectal bleeding, dark stool, or blood in the stool
- Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
“Many people with colorectal cancer experience no symptoms until the disease is advanced, which is why regular screenings are so important. Screening is undoubtedly the best line of defense,” said Weinberg. “When symptoms do appear, it’s important that individuals contact their doctor as soon as possible.”
There are several risk factors associated with colorectal cancer—some which cannot be changed and others that are lifestyle related. 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.
Lifestyle-related risks that increase one’s chances of colorectal cancer include:
- Being overweight or obese. This raises the risk of colon and rectal cancer in individuals, although the link seems to be stronger in men. Stay at a healthy weight and avoid weight gain around the midsection.
- Physical inactivity. Persons who live a sedentary lifestyle have an increased chance of developing colorectal cancer. Increased intensity and frequency of physical activity can lower one’s risk of colorectal cancer and polyps.
- Certain types of diets. 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. Diets rich in vegetables, fruits and high-fiber grains can help reduce risk.
- Smoking and heavy alcohol use. People who have smoked tobacco for a long time are more likely than nonsmokers to develop and die from colorectal cancer. Quitting smoking may help lower the risk of colorectal cancer and many other types of cancer. Colorectal cancer has also been linked to moderate to heavy alcohol use. Some studies have found a higher risk of colorectal cancer with increased alcohol intake, especially among men. The ACS recommends limiting alcohol use to no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.
There are several uncontrollable risk factors that may increase one’s risk of getting colorectal cancer, such as age. The ACS notes that aging increases the risk of colorectal cancer. While younger adults can develop the disease, it's much more common after age 50. 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 nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome)