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Understanding Colorectal Cancer Risk and Prevention
General Wellness

Understanding Colorectal Cancer Risk and Prevention

Posted: March 22, 2023

Colorectal cancer, also known as colon cancer, is the third most common cancer in the world. This cancer affects the colon or rectum, which are part of the digestive system. Colon cancer can develop in anyone, regardless of age, gender or race. It is important to understand the risk factors, symptoms and screening options for colon cancer in order to prevent and detect it at an early stage. 

What is Colon Cancer? 

Colon cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the colon or rectum. The colon is the large intestine, which is part of the digestive system. Cancer cells can form in the lining of the colon or rectum and grow into tumors that can spread to other parts of the body. 

Symptoms of Colon Cancer 

The symptoms of colon cancer can vary from person to person, and many people may not experience any symptoms at all. However, common symptoms may include: 

  • Changes in bowel habits (such as diarrhea, constipation or narrowing of the stool)
  • Blood in the stool or rectal bleeding
  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Feeling like you need to have a bowel movement even after you have already had one

Colon Cancer Risk Factors 

Several factors may increase your risk of developing colon cancer, including: 

  • Age: The risk of colon cancer increases as you get older.
  • Family history: If you have a close relative (such as a parent, sibling or child) who has had colon cancer, your risk of developing the disease is higher.
  • Personal history: If you have had colon cancer before, you are more likely to develop it again.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease: If you have ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, you have a higher risk of developing colon cancer.
  • Lifestyle factors: Certain lifestyle factors such as a diet high in red and processed meats, lack of exercise, smoking and heavy alcohol consumption may increase your risk of colon cancer.


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Steps to Reduce Your Risk 

The most effective way to reduce your risk is to routinely get screened for colorectal cancer, beginning at age 45 (or earlier if you have a family history). While you may not be able to control all of the risk factors for colon cancer, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk, including:  

  • Eating a healthy diet: Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Limit your intake of red and processed meats.
  • Exercising regularly: Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese may increase your risk of colon cancer.
  • Not smoking: Smoking has been linked to an increased risk of colon cancer as well as other types of cancer and health problems.
  • Limiting alcohol: Heavy alcohol consumption has been linked to an increased risk of colon cancer.

Screening Options for Colon Cancer 

Screening for colon cancer is important because it can help detect the disease at an early stage when it is most treatable. There are several screening options available, including: 

  • Colonoscopy - This is the most common screening test for colon cancer. During a colonoscopy, a doctor inserts a long, flexible tube with a camera into the rectum to examine the colon and rectum for polyps or other abnormalities.
  • Fecal occult blood test - This test checks for blood in the stool, which can be a sign of colon cancer. It is recommended that this test be done yearly.
  • Stool DNA test - This test looks for abnormal DNA in the stool that may be a sign of colon cancer.
  • CT colonography - This test uses a CT scanner to create detailed images of the colon and rectum to look for abnormalities.

Get Screened Today! 

Getting screened for colon cancer is an important step in maintaining your overall health. If you are 45 or older, or if you have a family history of colon cancer or other risk factors, it is important to talk to your doctor about getting screened. Early detection and treatment can increase the chances of survival and improve the outcome of colon cancer. 

Talk with your primary care doctor about other recommendations for better colon health, including colon cancer screening options.


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