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Colorectal Cancer Can Be 90 Percent Curable
Colorectal cancer, commonly known as colon cancer, occurs in the colon or rectum. March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Take this opportunity to reflect how your diet, lifestyle, and age may present risk factors for this disease. Determine if you are up to date on your screenings or if you may be at an increased risk for developing colorectal cancer. When caught early and the cancer is still localized (meaning it hasn’t spread outside of the colon or rectum), colorectal cancer has a five-year survival rate of over 90 percent.
Among all new cancer cases, colorectal cancer represents 8.2 percent and is the fourth most common cancer. Yet, despite increased public awareness, available screenings, and high survival rates when detected early, colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in the U.S.
Most colon cancers develop from small growths, or polyps, of excess tissue that grow on the lining of the colon or rectum. Up to 25 percent of men and women will develop polyps, and the majority are harmless. Because certain polyps can grow and transform into cancer with time, medical professionals recommend removing polyps, called a polypectomy, during the colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy screening tests. If any of the polyps are too large the doctor may need to remove the polyps with a later surgery
Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer
- Any change in the frequency, consistency, or amount of your bowel habits
- Blood in or on your stool
- Diarrhea, constipation, or feeling that the bowel does not empty
- Frequent abdominal pain, aches, or cramps
- Unexplainable weight loss
Your risk of developing colorectal cancer increases as you get older. In fact, almost 90 percent of colorectal cancer cases are in people over the age of 50, but up to one-third of this group does not keep up with recommended, regular screenings. Colorectal screening tests recommended by the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) are required to be covered by private insurers and Medicare. The USPSTF recommends screening for those at average risk beginning at age 50.
However, because of increasing rates of obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, and higher cases of colorectal cancer detected in those under age 50,The American Cancer Society now recommends screening begin at age 45.
How to Decrease Your Chances of Getting Colorectal Cancer
- Maintain a healthy weight and get regular physical activity
- Eat a diet rich in fiber, fruits, and vegetables, but low in fats and processed meats
- No tobacco use and minimal to no alcohol consumption
- Keeping up with colorectal screening tests, which can include:
- Stool tests every 1 to 3 years
- A flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 to 10 years
- A colonoscopy every 10 years for those with average risk factors
Since Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman died in August 2020 at age 43 following a colorectal cancer diagnosis four years earlier, more attention has been given to other risk factors for developing this disease. One in five colorectal patients today are between 20 and 54 years old. In addition, African Americans are 20 percent more likely to get colorectal cancer and 40 percent more likely to die from it than other racial and ethnic groups. Talk to your doctor to find out when you should begin cancer screenings.
The good news is that colon cancer is typically one of the slowest-growing cancers. Even once it becomes regional (spreading to nearby structures or lymph nodes), the five-year survival rate is still 72 percent.
Preventing and reducing your risk of colorectal cancer is another reason to review your diet and lifestyle choices. Talk with your doctor about when to start screening tests and if you have any increased risk factors that may lead to the development of colorectal cancer.