Making time for exercise, avoiding tobacco and limiting how much alcohol you drink may help you lower your risk for colorectal cancer – the second leading cancer killer.
But the most effective way to reduce your risk is much simpler: Begin regular colorectal screenings tests when you turn 45.
Colorectal cancer is cancer that occurs in the colon or rectum. Both men and women can develop this type of cancer. And the risk increases as you get older.
Fortunately, screening tests allow doctors to find and remove precancerous polyps before they turn into cancer. Screenings can also detect colorectal cancer early when treatment has the best chance for success. If detected in its early stages, colorectal cancer is up to 90 percent curable, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Despite the benefits of getting screened for colorectal cancer, many people skip or put off testing for a variety of reasons. The most recent federal statistics show that 28 percent of adults between the ages of 50 and 75 had never been screened.
Today, there are several ways to screen for colorectal cancer. Some of them can be done in the privacy of your own home. The screening test that’s best for you depends on many individual factors, which your health provider can discuss with you before making a recommendation.
- Stool tests – Your health provider may recommend you use a test kit at home to collect a stool sample. Stool test kits can detect blood or altered DNA in the stool.
- Flexible Sigmoidoscopy – During this procedure, a doctor uses a short, thin and flexible tube to look for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and lower third of the colon.
- Colonoscopy – Similar to a sigmoidoscopy, this test checks for polyps or cancer throughout the entire colon. During a colonoscopy, doctors have the ability to remove most polyps and some cancers.
Although the majority of people diagnosed with colorectal cancer are over the age of 45, you should tell your health provider if you have any of the following symptoms: blood in or on your stool, stools that appear more narrow than usual, constant tiredness, stomach pain or cramps that won’t go away and unexplained weight loss.
If you don’t have any symptoms of colorectal cancer, you should still get screened. Indeed, many people with precancerous polyps and early-state colorectal cancer have no symptoms at all.
Some people have certain risk factors that make it more likely for them to develop colorectal cancer. African-Americans have a greater risk than people of other races. Other risk factors include: a family history of colon cancer, a personal history of colorectal cancer or polyps and inflammatory intestinal conditions.
It’s important to note that most people who develop colorectal cancer have no family history of the disease.
Aside from colorectal cancer screening, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet may help you lower your risk.
+ Are you at risk for colon cancer? Take a five-minute online questionnaire – the Colon CancerAware Risk Assessment – to help determine your risk profile. Knowing your risk profile will help you take control of your health and provide you with the best defense against colon cancer.