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Colorectal cancer: Risk factors, symptoms, when you should get screened and more
General Wellness

Colorectal cancer: Risk factors, symptoms, when you should get screened and more

By David Shibata MD, Surgical Oncology
Posted: October 5, 2020

In light of the tragic death of Chadwick Boseman, you may have questions about colorectal cancer: What symptoms should I look for? What type of screening is best? Am I at risk of being diagnosed with colorectal cancer?

Boseman died at the age of 43. He was diagnosed with the disease when he was just 39. His death sparked multiple conversations about the disease, including the racial disparities seen with colorectal cancer diagnoses.

In 2019, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare conducted a Community Health Needs Assessment. That assessment showed that cancer is the 2nd leading cause of death in Shelby County. When it comes to colorectal cancer, in Shelby County, African Americans are 1.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with and 1.6 times more likely to die from colorectal cancer than their white counterparts.

When we specifically look at men in Shelby County, African American men are diagnosed with colorectal cancer 1.52 times more frequently than white men. The racial disparity is even more pronounced when looking at rates of death for men with colorectal cancer. African American men die 2.1 times more often from colorectal cancer than white men.

It is so important to be aware of the signs and be proactive with their health. Here are some things you may not be aware of regarding colorectal cancer:

Risk Factors

A risk factor is anything that raises your chance of getting a disease. Researchers have found several risk factors that may increase a person’s chance of developing colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer. Some risk factors can be changed, while other cannot.

Risk Factors that Can be Changed

Being overweight or obese

Not being physically active

Certain types of diets

Such as eating a lot of red meat or processed meats


Alcohol use

Risk Factors that Cannot be Changed

Being older

Having a personal history of colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer

A personal history of inflammatory bowel disease

A family history of colorectal cancer or polyps

Having an inherited syndrome

Your racial and ethnic background

Having type 2 diabetes 


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Signs and Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer might not cause symptoms right away, but it may cause one or more of these symptoms. While some people may find this difficult or embarrassing to talk about, it’s important to recognize the symptoms and see a doctor right away for the best next steps.

Change in bowel habits



Narrowing of stool

A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that’s not relieved by having one

Rectal bleeding with bright red blood

Blood in the stool, which might make the stool look dark brown or black

Cramping or belly pain

Weakness and fatigue

Unintended weight loss

Colorectal Cancer Screening Test Options

Several tests are available to screen for possible colorectal cancer. While you should always consult with your doctor, the most important thing to remember is to get screened ­— no matter which test you choose.

Stool-Based Tests

These tests look at a sample of your feces stool to look for possible signs of colorectal cancer or polyps. These tests can be done from the comfort of your home, however, they need to be conducted more often. Also, if an abnormality is detected in the stool sample, then a colonoscopy will need to be scheduled.

Fecal Immunochemical test (FIT)

Guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT)

Stool DNA test

Visual (structural) Exam

With these tests a doctor actually looks inside your colon and rectum for any abnormal areas that might be cancer or polyps. These test can be done less-often than stool-based tests, but they require more preparation ahead of time.


CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy)

Flexible sigmoidoscopy

When Should I Get Screened?

This depends on a lot of factors, including what we have already covered in this blog post. You should consult with your doctor about when and which screening would be best for you.

The American Cancer Society suggests people who are at average risk of colorectal cancer begin regular screening at 45 years old. For those at an increased or high risk, The American Cancer Society says screening may need to begin before the age of 45. Once again, it is very important to talk to your doctor about your risks and when you should start colorectal cancer screening.