Education, Early Detection Can Save Lives
March 7, 2022
Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third-most-common cancer in both men and women. It is also the third-leading cause of cancer-related mortality in the United States. The American College of Gastroenterology and the American Cancer Society recommend screening for people ages 45 to 75. That said, people younger than 45 and older than 75 years old should consult with their primary care provider if they present symptoms or have a family history of the disease.
Know Your Risk Factors
Some risk factors for colorectal cancer can’t be modified – your age, family history, genetics and existing medical conditions like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. However, there are lifestyle factors that contribute to an increased risk, including:
- Lack of physical activity or exercise
- A diet that regularly includes processed meats but few fruits and vegetables
- Being overweight or obese
- Alcohol consumption
- Tobacco use
Signs and Symptoms
Many symptoms of CRC can have other causes, such as hemorrhoids or irritable bowel syndrome. You should see your primary care physician if you experience any of the following:
- A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation or narrowing of the stool, that lasts for more than a few days
- An urge to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by having one
- Rectal bleeding with bright red blood
- Blood in the stool, which might make it look dark brown or black
- Cramping or abdominal pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Losing weight without trying
Tests and Treatments
Your medical provider may take several steps to determine your status, including a physical exam of your abdominal area to check for any masses or enlarged organs or additional tests, such as a colonoscopy, biopsy lab work or diagnostic imaging like a CT scan, ultrasound or MRI.
Treatment for CRC varies depending on its size and if it has spread. Options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy or a combination of options.
Colonoscopies can be a life-saving preventive screening tool. It’s vital not to delay scheduling this procedure over concerns about the prep (which has become less taxing in recent years) or what the doctor might find. The best prevention is early detection.