Colorectal Cancer 101

blue ribbon for colorectal caner awareness. under it, words stating "preventable, beatable, treatable"

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month – an opportunity for awareness and education on how to prevent this disease from becoming a reality for many. Colon cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancers; a fact that many do not know! Interestingly, it is also one of the top four deadliest types of cancer in the United States. With that said, the more we spread information on prevention, the faster we as a nation can beat this disease! In hopes of spreading awareness is month, the Wilf Campus for Senior Living has decided to share a few facts about the disease and how people can fight against it.

What is colorectal cancer?
Colorectal cancer is a cancer of the lower end of the digestive tract. The name is actually a classification of two different types of cancer; colon and rectal cancer. Because the two are characteristically similar, they are often named together. Early cases of the disease typically begin as non-cancerous growths on the inner-lining of the colon/rectum, known as polyps. These polyps can present symptoms like unexplained weight loss or bloody stool, but they often present no symptoms at all. Not all polyps turn into cancer, but undetected they may. This may eventually lead to growth and possible spreading throughout the body. Therefore, early detection is imperative!

Prevention: Catch it Early
Colorectal cancer is a sneaky disease, but not if you remain a step ahead! One in 23 Americans is diagnosed with colorectal cancer in their lifetime, 20% before the age of 55. To combat this, the answer is to get screened. According to the American Cancer Society, one should start getting screened at the age of 45. However, those with family history or higher risk factors should start earlier. When diagnosed at an early stage, there is a 90% survival rate for this cancer, but that rate declines the later it is detected.

Who is at risk?
Having no risk factors does not mean that one will not get colorectal cancer. However, there are some controllable and uncontrollable elements that may increase one’s chance of being diagnosed in life. These factors include:

  • Being an older adult; over age 50
  • Having a history of Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Family history
  • Type-2 diabetes
  • Physical inactivity
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Diets high in processed and red meats
  • Smoking
  • Heavy alcohol use

These are not the only risk factors, but they are definitely ones to consider. There are many ways to get screened for colorectal cancer including colonoscopies, CAT scans and stool samples. Be sure to talk to your doctor about what the best option is for you. Remember, if detected early enough, this cancer can be beat. So, if you know someone else who could benefit from this information (hint: you do!) be sure to share this with them and potentially save a life.