It’s Not Too Early to Think About Colon Cancer Prevention
Few diseases can be as regrettable as colorectal cancers. Nearly 53,000 people are expected to die from the diseases in 2022. Yet one 30-minute screening and a day of preparation could prevent more than half of these deaths.
Colorectal cancer (cancer of the rectum and/or colon) is the second-deadliest cancer in the United States today, according to the Colon Cancer Coalition. Preventing it is not a hard task, because the cancer develops at a very slow pace. A patient would likely wait more than 10 years without undergoing a cancer-detecting colonoscopy for precancerous cells to become cancerous.
That is a lot of years of missed opportunity.
Here are the Basics About Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer occurs when cell clusters, called polyps, begin to multiply abnormally. Not all become cancerous, but some may, gradually, so it is important to remove them early. There is a 24% chance that a pea-sized polyp will become cancerous in 20 years.
The American Cancer Society estimates the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is one in 23 for men and one in 25 for women. In 2022, that will translate to nearly 151,000 cases, making it the fourth most diagnosed cancer, after breast, lung, and prostate cancers.
The overall five-year survival rate is 64%. But if caught early, the survival rate is 91%.
Polyps May Not Cause Symptoms, Particularly Early On
Because colorectal cancer is so slow to develop, and shows few symptoms, underlines why early detection is so effective. It also explains why age is a significant factor in the likelihood of a colorectal cancer diagnosis. But other contributing circumstances could put you or a loved one at a higher risk, as well. These risks include:
- A family history of the colorectal cancers, polyp growths, or of inherited syndromes that lead to gene mutations, such as Lynch syndrome.
- A personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, a chronic swelling of the gastrointestinal tract.
- Smoking, obesity, lack of physical activity, and conditions that threaten overall health.
- African Americans are 20% more likely to develop colorectal cancer and 40% more likely to die from it than other races. Some researchers believe this is due to a lack of access to cancer prevention and detection resources.
5 Easy Steps Toward Early Detection and Prevention
The earlier polyps are detected, the more successful and less invasive the treatment for potential cancers are. Here are five guidelines everyone outside of the risk categories should embrace once reaching the age of 45.
- Schedule a screening at once. A colonoscopy is considered the gold standard in early cancer detection because any polyps found during the screening are removed immediately and tested for cancer. This makes it both a diagnostic and preventive procedure. Fecal tests, which can be performed at home, are a popular option but not advised for those at high risk because they do not detect polyps, just blood in the stool – a symptom of cancer.
- Stick to a gut-healthy diet. High-fiber foods including fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and beans have been found to reduce cancer risks and promote healthy bowel movements. Red meats and processed meats can increase cancer risks.
- Drink more fluids. A well-hydrated digestive system is more “regular.” Also, water and other non-sugary fluids flush out toxins and other unwanted chemicals from the body.
- Pay attention to your movements. Warning signs of colon cancer include sudden and persistent changes in bowel movements, blood in the stool, cramps, and a feeling that the bowel isn’t emptying.
- Strive for the good-health trifecta. No breaking news here: everyone should limit how much alcohol they drink, not smoke, and maintain a healthy weight.
Beating Colorectal Cancer Means Being Colon Conscious
Lastly, if you or someone you know experiences symptoms, such as blood in the stool or changes in bowel movements, make an appointment for a consultation – even if you have had a colonoscopy. These symptoms could suggest other conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease, ulcers, or hemorrhoids.
For those still uncomfortable about the getting a colonoscopy, please know that the preparation has advanced significantly over the years and is much easier (and tastes better). To learn more, read our blog that dispels colonoscopy preparation myths here.