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Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal Cancer

Written by: Charlotte Van Noppen, M.Ed

Colorectal cancer refers to cancer that starts in the colon or rectum.  The American Cancer Society’s estimates for the number of colorectal cancer cases in the United States for 2022 are: 106,180 new cases of colon cancer and 44,850 new cases of rectal cancer. Because of advanced screening techniques and positive changes in lifestyle-related risk factors, the rate of people being diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer has continuously dropped since the 1980’s.

Of cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the United States.

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Colorectal cancer doesn't always cause symptoms. Someone could have polyps or colorectal cancer and not know it.

Lifestyle factors may greatly increase one’s risk of disease. For colorectal cancer, the

factors that contribute to an increased risk include:

• Lack of regular physical activity

• A high-fat diet, or a diet high in processed meats

• A diet low in fruits and vegetables

• Overweight and obesity

• Alcohol and/or tobacco use

That is why getting screened regularly for colorectal cancer is so important. However, if symptoms do present themselves, they may include:

• A change in bowel habits.

• Blood in or on your stool (bowel movement).

• Diarrhea, constipation, or feeling that the bowel does not empty all the way.

• Abdominal pain, aches, or cramps that don’t go away.

• Weight loss and you don’t know why.

Be sure to talk to your doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. They may be caused by something other than colorectal cancer.

What if I am experiencing these symptoms?

The screening methods used for colorectal cancer can find precancerous polyps, or abnormal growths in the colon and rectum. These polyps can be removed before they progress into cancer. Treatment works best when these types of growths are found at early stages. Most people should begin regular screenings for colorectal cancer after turning 45. If you have inflammatory bowel disease, a personal or family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, or a genetic syndrome (such as FAP and Lynch syndrome), you may need to be tested before age 45 and be screened at more regular intervals.

There are various screening tests available that can be used to find polyps or colorectal

cancer. These tests include: stool tests, flexible sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, and CT

colonography. Each of these have advantages and disadvantages so it is important to discuss

your family history, medical conditions, and available resources withyour gastroenterologistto

figure out which will be best for you.