Colorectal cancer, also sometimes referred to as colon cancer, is a cancer that begins in either the colon or the rectum. These are both parts of the large intestine, which belongs to your body's digestive system. Colorectal cancer often begins as a polyp on the inner wall of the rectum or colon and sometimes these polyps turn cancerous.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common form of cancer found in the United States. Here is what you need to know about risk factors for colorectal cancer, how to improve your odds of avoiding the disease, and some specific symptoms that are associated with this type of cancer.
The Risk Factors for Colorectal Cancer
Your risk of getting colorectal cancer goes up as you get older. Patients who are aged 50 and older account for more than 90% of colorectal cancer cases. Other risk factors for this disease include:
- Family history of colorectal cancer
- Inflammatory bowel diseases (Crohn's disease)
- Genetic syndrome such as Lynch syndrome
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Tobacco use
- Diet that is high-fat, low-fiber, or lacking fruits and vegetables
- Physical inactivity
How to Reduce Your Risk of Colorectal Cancer
Approximately 8% of all new cancer cases and cancer deaths in the U.S. in 2016 were attributed to colorectal cancer. The good news is that both new cases and death rates for this form of cancer are on the decline over the past several decades, mostly due to increased awareness and screening measures.
The number one thing that you can do to reduce your risk of getting colorectal cancer is to get regular cancer screenings in the form of a colonoscopy. Colorectal cancer nearly always begins from abnormal growths called polyps, which could be present in your colon for years before they become cancerous. A screening can locate and remove these polyps before they become dangerous.
Regular screening for colorectal cancer begins at age 50. The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that adults aged 50 to 75 get screened for this disease, with older adults only undergoing screening if healthy enough to do so.
There are some studies that suggest your attention to lifestyle risk factors could reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer. This means that you should consider eating a healthy diet, exercising, quitting smoking, and limiting your alcohol consumption.
What Are Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer?
Unfortunately, colorectal cancer won't always present symptoms, particularly in the early stages. This is why screening is so important. If you do get symptoms, a few things to look out for include blood in your stool, unexplained weight loss, and stomach pain or cramps that don't dissipate. If you have any of these symptoms, speak with your physician as soon as possible.
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