Colorectal Cancer Awareness and Prevention

Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers occurring in adult men and women in the U.S. Colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon or rectum, accounts for about 1 in 9 cancer diagnoses and is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the US. This year alone, the American Cancer Society predicts over 142,000 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer and an estimated 50,000 will die from it. This March, during National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, is a good time to take notice of a few key facts that help you better anticipate and prevent developing colorectal cancer.

Early stage colorectal cancer usually has no symptoms

However, changes in bowl habits, including constipation or diarrhea, that last more than a few days; bleeding from the rectum or bright red blood in the stool; a change in the shape of the stool; or abdominal pain or weight loss could be warning signs that should be brought to your doctor’s attention.

Diet can affect the risk of getting colorectal cancer

The good news is that there is evidence from observational studies that increased dietary fiber consumption may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.  Foods that are high in fiber include vegetables, fruit, grains and cereals.  Studies also indicate that red and processed meats (hot dogs and some luncheon meats) and saturated fat intake may increase the risk of colorectal cancer.


More risk factors to be aware of

According to the American Cancer Society, people age 50 and over are at a higher risk of colorectal cancer.  Some 9 out of 10 people diagnosed with colorectal cancer are at least 50 years old.  A history of polyps on the wall of the intestine places people at an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer.  Having a history of inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, is a risk factor for colorectal cancer.  Additionally, most colorectal cancers occur in people without a family history of colorectal cancer.


Physical inactivity, obesity, smoking and excess alcohol use

Yes each of these lifestyle factors – physical inactivity, obesity, smoking, excess alcohol use – has some influence on the risk of developing (or reducing the risk of) colorectal cancer.


Early detection through screening is key

Since the early stages of colorectal cancer usually have no symptoms, screening for the disease is critical. National guidelines for people at normal risk for colorectal cancer call for screening at age 50.  There are several ways to screen, but colonoscopy is preferred by most doctors because it allows a good view and the chance to remove polyps before they become cancerous.

Make many factors, many opportunities

Many factors are believed to be associated with developing colorectal cancer, including one’s own genetics, history of intestinal polyps, and lifestyle choices. However, with so many opportunities in your lifestyle to cut colorectal cancer risk, including changing your diet, increasing physical activity, limiting alcohol use, quitting smoking, and getting screened for colorectal cancer early, there are plenty of ways you can better protect yourself against developing colorectal cancer, and if detected early, having it more successfully treated.


Be well, Stay well,

Pharmacist Andy