Expert Health Articles

Colorectal Cancer

Brenda KellerBrenda Keller, CNP

Gastroenterology Associates of Northwest Ohio

Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and women in the United States. The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that there will be 97,220 new cases of colon cancer and 43,030 new cases of rectal cancer this year alone. It’s estimated that 50,630 people will die from colorectal cancer this year. Those are grim statistics, but the good news is that colorectal cancer can often be prevented. Colorectal polyps are being found more often by screening tests. These polyps are being removed before they can develop into cancers or they are being found at an earlier, more treatable stage.

Several risk factors for colorectal cancer have been identified. A risk factor is anything that affects your chances of acquiring a disease, such as colorectal cancer. Some of these risk factors can be modified to reduce the risk, while others, such as aging, cannot be changed. Modifiable risk factors linked to the development of colorectal polyps and colorectal cancer are: being overweight or obese, physical inactivity, diets high in red meats and processed meats, smoking and heavy alcohol use. Risk factors that cannot be changed include: older age, a personal history of colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer, a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s Disease), a family history of colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps and a family history of certain hereditary colorectal cancer syndromes.

The American Cancer Society believes that preventing colorectal cancer (and not just finding it early) should be a major reason for getting screened for the disease. Beginning at age 50, men and women of average risk should be screened for colorectal cancer. Because the rates of colorectal cancer and deaths from the disease are higher in African Americans, screening of average risk men and women in this population should begin at age 45. The “gold standard” test is a colonoscopy. The procedure is performed by a physician, typically a gastroenterologist. During a colonoscopy, a lighted, flexible tube containing a video camera (a “colonoscope”), is inserted in the rectum and advanced through the colon (the large intestine). The procedure is done with the patient comfortably sedated. If polyps are found, they are removed during the colonoscopy.

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. It’s a good time to schedule your colonoscopy. One in 22 men and one in 24 women will develop colorectal cancer in their lifetime. Take this opportunity to begin lowering your risk factors, getting screened and decreasing your chances of developing colorectal cancer.