What You Need To Know About Colorectal Cancer
By LINDA CARTE, RN, MSN, AOCN
Vice President of Oncology & Post-Acute Care
Colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon or rectum. With certain types of screening, this cancer can be prevented by removing polyps (grape-like growths on the wall of the intestine) before they become cancerous. Several screening tests detect colorectal cancer early, when it can be easily and successfully treated.
You might be at an increased risk for colorectal cancer if you:
- Eat a lot of red meat, such as beef, pork or lamb, or a lot of processed meat, such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs or cold cuts.
- Have a personal or family history of colorectal cancer or benign (not cancerous) colorectal polyps.
- Have a personal or family history of inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
- Are overweight or obese, especially if you carry excess fat around your waist.
- Drink alcohol in excess (especially if you are a man).
- Are not physically active.
- Smoke or use tobacco.
- Age 50 or older.
Early stages of colorectal cancer don’t usually have symptoms. Later on, people may have these symptoms:
- Bleeding from the rectum or blood in or on the stool.
- Change in bowel habits.
- Stools that are more narrow than usual.
- General problems in the abdomen, such as bloating, fullness or cramps.
- Diarrhea, constipation or a feeling in the rectum that the bowel movement is not quite complete.
- Weight loss for no apparent reason.
Take comfort in the fact that some simple lifestyle changes can make a difference. Consider these prevention tips:
- Be physically active for at least 30 minutes, five days a week.
- Maintain a healthy weight and waist size.
- Don’t smoke. If you do smoke, quit.
- Limit alcohol to no more than one drink per day if you’re a woman or two drinks per day if you are a man.
- Eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, which are good sources of fiber.
- Eat less red meat and cut out processed meat.
- Get screened according to guidelines.
Early detection is an important part of routine health care, especially with regard to colon cancer screenings.
- Begin getting screened at age 50. If you are older than age 75, ask your doctor if you should continue to be screened.
- If you are a high risk, talk you your health care professional about screening earlier and more often.
- Talk to your doctor about your screening test options.
Tests that find pre-cancer and cancer:
- Colonoscopy – Every 10 years
- Virtual colonoscopy – Every 5 years
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy – Every 5 years
- Double-contrast barium enema – Every 5 years
Tests that mainly detect cancer:
- Stool occult blood test (FOBT) (guaiac) – Every year
- Stool immunochemical test (FIT) – Every year