Colorectal cancer–cancer of the colon and rectum–doesn’t discriminate. It affects people in all racial and ethnic groups–most often in people 50 and older. There are often no signs or symptoms, which makes screening vital. The best way to prevent colorectal cancer is to get screened regularly starting at age 50.
The disease strikes men and women with almost equal frequency, but smokers and African-Americans are at higher risk, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. Others with a higher risk should start screening younger than 50. This group also includes anyone with a personal or family history of inflammatory bowel disease; colorectal cancer or polyps; or ovarian, endometrial or breast cancer.
Exceeding both breast cancer and prostate cancer in mortality, colorectal cancer is second only to lung cancer in numbers of deaths it causes in the US. This year alone, there will be 140,000 new cases of and 56,000 people will die from it.
Beware of These Symptoms
Colorectal cancer is often a silent disease, developing with no symptoms at all. When symptoms do occur, they may include the following:
- blood in or on the stool;
- change in bowel habits; or
- narrower stools than usual;
- general stomach discomfort (bloating, fullness, cramps);
- diarrhea, constipation or a feeling that the bowel does not empty completely;
- frequent gas pains;
- weight loss for no apparent reason;
- rectal bleeding; and/or
- constant tiredness.
If you have any of these symptoms for more than two weeks, see your doctor right away.
Prevent Colorectal Cancer
As with other diseases, the risk of colorectal cancer decreases with regular exercise and a low-fat diet that includes plenty of vegetables and fresh fruit.
Widespread adoption of colorectal cancer screening and early treatment could save about 40,000 lives every year. Screening is crucial to detect and remove benign polyps (abnormal growths that develop before the disease) and to discover colorectal cancer in its early stages. Up to 90 percent of patients can be cured of colorectal cancer when the disease is discovered at its early states.
The risk goes up with age. All adults 50 and older can develop it and should get screened. Colorectal cancer screening, including colonoscopy, is covered under the Affordable Care Act.
Use the North Shore-LIJ Cancer Institute’s free assessment tool to find out if you are at risk for colorectal cancer.