Prevent Colorectal Cancer
These 4 Tips Can Help
March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month — and it’s a big deal. Colon cancer is the third-most common cancer in men and women, and it’s the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths. Colorectal cancer is treatable and beatable, especially if caught early. Here are four simple tips to lower your risk.
1. 45 Is the New 50
In 2018 the American Cancer Society changed its colorectal cancer screening guidelines. Screening for patients at average risk now begins at age 45 instead of 50. The change was made due to a startling trend: an increasing rate of colorectal cancer among younger people.
2. Know Your Family History
The people who are most at risk for colorectal cancer are those who have a personal history of colon polyps or colon cancer, or those who have first degree relatives with colon polyps or colon cancer.
“Waiting for symptoms is a mistake. The best way to prevent colon cancer is to look for it before you experience symptoms.”
Polyps are visible precancerous lesions that form on the lining of the colon. They typically take five to 10 years to grow from a visible polyp into a cancer. This makes colorectal cancer a perfect disease for screening because there is a visible precursor. The challenge is that the visible precursor typically does not have any symptoms.
Having a family history of colorectal cancer means you may need to start your colon cancer screening at an earlier age and repeat your screening at a shorter time interval, so knowing your family history is vital. Let your family members know if you have colon polyps or cancer, so they get their colonoscopy on time.
3. Don’t Ignore Symptoms
Screening colonoscopies are for patients with no symptoms.
If you have abdominal pain, unexpected weight loss, change in bowel habits or blood from your rectum, you need to discuss a diagnostic colonoscopy. These symptoms often necessitate a colonoscopy earlier than age 45 years. If you ignore these symptoms or attribute them to hemorrhoids or another process, you may delay your diagnosis of colon polyps or cancer.
Michael Fealk, D.O., has been a colorectal surgeon at the Enloe Colorectal and General Surgery Clinic since 2013.
4. Be a Healthier You
Some of the big risk factors for colon cancer are obesity, inactivity, alcohol consumption, smoking, and diets low in fiber and high in red meats. How can you reduce your risk?
Don’t smoke, drink only in moderation, eat a healthy, fiber-rich diet, exercise more and watch your weight. But most importantly, be sure you’re up to date on your colonoscopy.
I talk to patients and families all the time that tell me they don’t need a colonoscopy because they’re not having any symptoms. Waiting for symptoms is a mistake. The best way to prevent colon cancer is to look for it before you experience symptoms.
Colonoscopy remains the gold standard, but there are other screening options like stool studies. Be sure to speak with your doctor if you have questions.