Colorectal cancer – cancer of the large intestine and rectum – is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the United States. In fact, the American Cancer Society estimates that there will be more than 140,000 cases of colorectal among U.S. men and women in 2013. The good news is that added awareness, advancements in cancer screenings and healthy lifestyle changes can decrease the risk of getting the disease.
Since March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, Joseph Hamm, M.D., a Mayo Clinic Health System in St. James family physician, shares some information and advice on how to avoid colorectal cancer.
1. Screening. Colorectal cancer often begins as small non-cancerous polyps that may become malignant over time. Colorectal cancer screenings can detect the polyps early and prevent the disease from developing. Health care professionals recommend screenings for colorectal cancer beginning at age 50.
If the disease runs in your family, a good rule of thumb is to start screenings ten years prior to your family member’s age of diagnosis. For example, if your dad was diagnosed at 49 years old, begin your screenings at 39.
There are various screenings available, so please discuss the options with your health care provider.
2. Symptoms. The most common symptoms of colorectal cancer are:
Blood in the stool
A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation
Persistent abdominal discomfort or pain
Unexplained weight loss
Although colorectal cancer may not produce symptoms, you should contact your health care provider if you have concerns or if you experience any of these signs.
3. Risks. The exact cause of colorectal cancer remains unknown, but there are proven risk factors for the disease, which include:
Lack of exercise
Drinking alcohol in excess
Although the risks listed above are all preventable, there are risk factors for colorectal cancer that cannot be avoided. These include:
Family history of colon polyps and cancer
Race (African-Americans are at greater risk)
Inflammatory intestinal disorders like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
4. Prevention. Colorectal cancer screenings are extremely important, but there are also simple lifestyle changes you can make to decrease your risk.
Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains
If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation
Manage your weight
A plan that includes timely screenings and healthy lifestyle choices will help to keep you free of colorectal cancer. You can start making positive changes today. You’ll feel better and your family will appreciate it, too.
To schedule an appointment at Mayo Clinic Health System in St. James, please call 877-412-7575 (toll-free).