It’s National Colorectal Cancer Awareness month, which makes it the perfect time to learn about colorectal cancer and the importance of its screening and prevention.
While some use the terms colorectal cancer and colon cancer interchangeably, colorectal cancer refers to both colon and rectal cancers. Cancer in the large intestine is referred to as colon cancer, and cancer within the last five to ten inches of the colon is known as rectal cancer.
Colon cancer is more common in men, however, both men and women are at risk for colorectal cancer as they age. Regular screening is key to preventing colon and rectal cancer in its early stages. Besides scheduling regular colonoscopies with your physician, be aware of these signs and risks for colorectal cancer in order to seek prompt treatment.
Age and Sex
As previously mentioned, the risk of colon cancer increases for men over the age of 45. For those with a family history of colon cancer, you may want to consider screening at 40. Regardless of sex, it is recommended to begin screening for colorectal cancer at 50. Both stages I and II of colorectal cancer often have little or no signs of disease, so routine screening is key to diagnosis and treatment.
Blood in Stool
While routine colorectal screening is vital regardless of symptoms, seek out your physician directly if you notice blood in the stool or rectal bleeding. This is one of the most common signs of colorectal cancer.
Be wary of general digestive issues including constipation, diarrhea, and persistent abdominal pain. Patients may find ongoing issues with gas or cramps. Should these symptoms last more than a week, it’s time to contact your physician.
Unexplained Weight Loss
If you find yourself losing weight without any recent changes in diet or exercise, this could be a symptom of colorectal cancer.
Fatigue or Weakness
While these symptoms can mean many things on their own, they are also commonly experienced in patients with colorectal cancer.
A History of IBD
Patients with irritable bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease are known to have an increased risk of colorectal cancer. If you have a history of IBD, you may want to consider screening for colorectal cancer early.
Note that Inflammatory bowel disease is different than IBS, and is not associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer.
Preventing Colorectal Cancer
While a lot of risk factors of colorectal cancer are due to age and genetics, there are ways to lower your risk:
- Eat a balanced diet with enough fiber
- Limit alcohol intake
- Stop smoking
- Daily exercise
Certain medications are also available for high-risk patients. The exact dosage and type of medication varies from patient to patient and is only recommended in extreme cases.
Colorectal cancer can be deadly, but is very treatable when caught early. Contact MSA if you wish to schedule a colorectal screening or have any questions on colorectal treatment.