It’s the screening we all dread – but its ability to save lives should motivate each of us to discuss with our doctors when we turn 50. Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, with over 95,000 cases predicted to be diagnosed this year. And since as many as 49,000 people will die from the disease, it’s important to understand what we can do to prevent it.
Screening for Colon Cancer
For most adults, the American Cancer Society recommends starting screening at age 50, although those at higher risk for colorectal cancer might need to begin earlier.
Common screening tools for colorectal cancers include:
- Occult Blood Test: A stool sample is checked for blood, which might be a sign of a polyp or cancer.
- Stool DNA Test:A stool sample is checked for certain abnormal sections of DNA from cancer or polyp cells.
- Sigmoidoscopy:A flexible, lighted tube examines the lower colon to check for polyps and cancer.
- Colonoscopy:A longer, flexible tube is used to look at the entire colon and rectum.
- Double-Contrast Barium Enema:An x-ray test of the colon and rectum.
- CT Colonography (Virtual Colonoscopy):This is a type of 3D CT scan of the colon and rectum.
Most physicians don’t continue testing beyond age 75 if the patient has been receiving regular screenings since age 50 and has had consistently negative results.
Researchers have found the risk factors below may increase a person’s chance of developing colorectal polyps (the precursor to cancer) or colorectal cancer.
Lifestyle Choice Risk Factors You Can Change:
- Physical Inactivity: Regular exercise can reduce your risk.
- Smoking History: If you smoke, stop; if you haven’t started, don’t.
- Heavy Alcohol Use: Consuming more than three alcoholic drinks per day, or more than seven drinks per week, can increase your risk.
- Obesity: A healthy weight can help prevent a variety of types of cancer.
- Diet: Diets high in red meat and processed meats and lacking in fruits and vegetables can increase your risk.
Risk Factors You Cannot Change:
- Age: Over 90% of diagnosed colorectal cancers are in those over age 50.
- Medical/Family History: Inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, type 2 diabetes, and family history all impact a person’s risk of developing colorectoral cancer.
- Inherited Syndromes: Familial adenomatous polyposis, Gardner syndrome, Lynch syndrome, Turcot syndrome, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, MUTYH-associated polyposis are risk factors for developing colorectal cancer at a younger age than is usual.
- Racial/Ethnic Background: People of African American and Jewish descent are at higher risk.
Symptoms of Colon Cancer
Cancer symptoms are quite varied and depend on where the cancer is located, where it has spread, and how large the tumor is. More often, there are no symptoms in the early stages, and symptoms develop as the disease progresses and the tumor(s) grow. Those symptoms can include:
- Changes in bowel regularity: diarrhea or constipation
- Pain during bowel movements
- Frequent urges to defecate
- Sudden weight loss
- Narrow stools
- Blood in the stool or rectal bleeding
- Abdominal pain or cramps
- Weakness and fatigue
If the cancer spreads, or “metastasizes,” additional symptoms can present in the newly affected area.
Nightingale Homecare of Phoenix is dedicated to helping older adults live the healthiest possible lives, while remaining in the comfort of home. Contact us at 602-504-1555 to learn more about our professional home health care services.