UCR Health recognizes National Colorectal Cancer Awareness month by focusing on patient education and the promotion of preventive screenings.
Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors, Symptoms, and Screenings
Colorectal Cancer, also known as colon cancer, is cancer of the rectum or colon located in the lower part of the body’s digestive system. According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and women in the United States and is expected to cause more than 50,000 deaths during 2018. The good news is that if health professionals, communities and families work together, we can reduce the number of deaths by simply ensuring patients are educated about the risk factors, signs and symptoms, and receive appropriate screenings.
Reducing your colon cancer risk
While there are many colorectal cancer risk factors that we cannot control (such as age and family history), there are several ways to be proactive to protect your colon health. The following changes in lifestyle habits can not only reduce your risk of many types of cancer, but they also reduce your risk for serious diseases like diabetes and heart disease.
Here are 6 ways to protect your colon health:
- Eat lots of vegetables, fruits and whole grains
- Get regular exercise
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Don’t smoke
- Limit alcohol
- Get screened for colon cancer
Signs and symptoms of colon cancer
While many of the symptoms of colorectal cancer can be linked to something unrelated to cancer, it is important to see a healthcare professional if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms below:
- A change in bowel habits (diarrhea, constipation, narrowing of the stool) lasting more than a few days
- Rectal bleeding
- Dark stools, or blood in the stool
- Unintended weight loss
- Stomach pain or cramping that doesn’t go away
According to the American Cancer Society, when colorectal cancer does turn out to be the cause, symptoms often appear only after the cancer has grown or spread. That is why regular screening for early detection is highly recommended.
Colorectal cancer screening options
Because early stages of colorectal cancer present with no symptoms, it is important to get screened on a regular basis. According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, adults at average risk for developing colorectal cancer should be screened beginning at age 50 and continue until the age of 75 using one of the screening tests below:
Tests that find polyps and cancer
- Colonoscopy every 10 years if normal or 10 years before the youngest case in a first-degree relative – most sensitive test
- CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) every 5 years *
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years *
- Double-contrast barium enema every 5 years *
Tests that mainly find cancer
- Fecal immunochemical test (FIT) every year *,†
- Guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT) every year *,†
- Stool DNA test every 3 years *
*Colonoscopy should be done if test results are positive.
† Highly sensitive versions of these tests should be used with the take-home multiple sample method. A gFOBT of FIT done during a digital rectal exam in the doctor’s office is not enough for screening.
For more information about lowering your risk, signs and symptoms, and screening options, visit www.cancer.org. Individuals with a family history of cancer or those with other risk factors should talk with their doctor about screening options and frequency.