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Colorectal Cancer: Early Detection Can Save Your Life

What is Colorectal Cancer?

• Colorectal cancer is cancer that starts in the colon or rectum. It usually begins as a polyp on the inner lining of the colon or rectum.

• Polyps form when cells lining the colon grow, divide and reproduce in an unhealthy, disorderly way, producing a growth. These polyps can be cancerous, invading the colon wall and surrounding blood vessels, and spreading to other parts of the body.

• Colorectal cancer frequently begins without symptoms.

What Causes Colorectal Cancer?

The causes of colorectal cancer are unknown. Studies suggest that both genetic and lifestyle factors are the cause.

• Genetics may decide a person’s tendency towards the disease. Dietary and other lifestyle factors may determine which individuals may be at risk for developing the disease.

• Diets high in fat and low in fruits and vegetables – such as those that include red meat, fried foods and high-fat dairy products, may increase the risk of colorectal cancer.

• Lifestyle factors that increase the risk of getting the disease include cigarette smoking, obesity, a sedentary lifestyle and heavy alcohol use.

How Common is Colorectal Cancer?

According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third leading case of cancer-related deaths in the United States when men and women are considered separately, and the second leading cause when both sexes are combined.

Overall, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 20. More women over the age of 75 will die from colorectal cancer than from breast cancer.

Who is At Risk?

• Men and women aged 50 and older are at equal risk of developing colorectal cancer.
• Those with a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps.
• Anyone with a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
• The incidence of colorectal cancer is present among all ethnic groups; however, survival rates appear lower in Askenazi Jews and African-Americans.
• People with type 2 diabetes have an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer.

How Can You Prevent Colorectal Cancer?

• Know your family and personal health history.
• If you are aged 50 or older, see your doctor for yearly screenings.
• Eat a low-fat, high fiber diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
• Avoid excess alcohol.
• Exercise regularly.
• Prevent obesity.
• The best method to prevent the disease is to find and remove large polyps before they develop into cancer. Regular colorectal cancer screening can help prevent colorectal cancer.

What You Need to Know...

• Early detection saves lives – colorectal cancer is preventable, even curable when identified early.
• If colorectal cancer is detected early, the patient has more than a 90 percent chance of survival.
• Screening for colorectal cancer is safe and effective and is now covered by Medicare and an increasing number of other health providers.
• Screening tests that help in finding cancer in its early stages and removing polyps before they become cancerous include Fecal occult blood test (FOB), Flexible Sigmoidoscopy, barium X-ray and Colonoscopy.

What Are the Symptoms?

The most likely warning signs include:

• Changes in bowel movements, including persistent constipation, diarrhea, a feeling of not being able to empty the bowel completely, or rectal bleeding.
• Dark patches of blood in or on the stool; or long, thin “pencil stools.”
• Abdominal discomfort or bloating.
• Fatigue, weight loss, or loss of appetite.

Call Your Doctor If You Notice:

• Blood in or on your stool.
• Stools narrower than usual and changes in bowel movements.
• Persistent or frequent abdominal bloating, cramps, and gas pain.
• Unexplained weight loss, or fatigue.
• These symptoms may be due to other causes, but they could also be linked to cancer. Only your doctor can determine the causes of these symptoms.