Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month: Prevention and Screening Tips

What is Colorectal Cancer?

Colorectal cancer (CRC), or colon cancer, as it is sometimes called, presents in the colon (the large intestine or large bowel) or the rectum. In some cases, over time, polyps, which are abnormal growths, form in the colon or rectum and may turn into cancer, which is why it is important to get regular screenings.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on colorectal cancer screenings nationwide, as well as in Rhode Island, making delayed diagnoses of colorectal cancer substantial.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) screening tests can help doctors locate polyps, so they can be removed, before turning into cancer. Such screenings can also help find colorectal cancer at an early stage, when treatment is most effective.

It is also important to note that colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States, and the second leading cause of cancer death in both men and women combined. The American Cancer Society projects there will be 149,400 new CRC cases and 52,980 deaths. Also, CRC is 20 % higher in blacks compared to non-Hispanic whites.

Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer

Early on, colorectal cancer sometimes does not cause symptoms. Getting screened regularly for colorectal cancer can save the life of someone who has polyps or cancer and does not know it.

Some symptoms of colorectal cancer may include:

  • A change in bowel habits
  • Blood in or on your bowel movement
  • Diarrhea, constipation
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Persistent abdominal pain
Who Is At Risk for Colorectal Cancer?

As you get older, your risk for getting colorectal cancer increases. In people who are 50 years of age or older, approximately 90% of cases occur. Age, however, is not the only risk factor.

Risk factors include:

  • A personal family history of colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps
  • A genetic syndrome, such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome), and inflammatory bowel disease.

One’s lifestyle may also play a part in contributing to an increased risk of colorectal cancer, including:

  • Leading a sedentary lifestyle
  • Lack of fruits and vegetables in one’s diet
  • A low-fiber, high-fat diet, or a diet high in processed meats
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Alcohol and tobacco consumption
How to Reduce Your Risk of Getting Colorectal Cancer

Screening, beginning at age 50, is the best way to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer. This is because almost all colorectal cancers being as precancerous polyps, which can be discovered and safely removed before ever turning into cancer. Oftentimes people are unaware that these polyps (abnormal growths) can exist within the colon or rectum for years, causing no symptoms, before cancer develops, which is why it is so dangerous. Catching colorectal cancer early is when treatment works best.

Statistics

The year 2020 was devastating due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Because people stayed away from hospitals and canceled regular check-ups and screenings out of fear of getting COVID-19, colorectal screening rates dropped by 86% with a resultant 32% fewer new CRC diagnoses. This deficit will lead to 4,500 more CRC deaths over the next decade.

Since 2005, researched have found that race/ethnic background impact CRC risk, with blacks often diagnosed at advanced stages, and having the highest death rate from CRC. Current guidelines recommend that blacks begin receiving CRC screenings, beginning at age 45. 

New developments in 2021 include a well-documented recent increase in early onset colorectal cancer (EOCRC), occurring under the age of 50.

Talk To Your Doctor

If you are age 45 or older, or at an increased risk for CRC, you should speak with your doctor about whether or not you should have a screening test for colorectal cancer.

Screening tests include:

  • Stool tests
  • Flexible Sigmoidoscopy
  • Colonoscopy
  • CT Coloscopy (Virtual Colonoscopy)

Ask your doctor which test might be right for you, depending upon your preference, medical condition, risk. Learn more about our Center for Women's Gastrointestinal Health at Women & Infants. 

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