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Over 50? Here's What You Need to Know About Colorectal Cancer

Over 50? Here's What You Need to Know About Colorectal Cancer

This year, the American Cancer Society estimates 97,220 new cases of colon cancer and 43,030 new cases of rectal cancer. Overall, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 22 (4.49%) for men and 1 in 24 (4.15%) for women.

Colorectal cancer starts in the colon or rectum and occurs when cells begin to grow out of control. Most colorectal cancers begin as a polyp on the inner lining of the colon or rectum and change into cancer over the course of several years (though not all polyps lead to cancer).

You’re never too young or too old to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer. While people over the age of 50 are at higher risk, colorectal cancer is also on the rise for people under 50. The Colorectal Cancer Alliance, a national organization committed to ending colorectal cancer through prevention, research, and patient support, confirms that 1 in 10 people with colorectal cancer are diagnosed before the age of 50.

So, whether you’re 29 or 59, what can you do to limit your chances of getting colorectal cancer? Know the signs and symptoms, learn the risk factors, listen to your body, talk to your doctor, and know your family health history. A healthy lifestyle, knowledge, and early detection are the keys to prevention.

Lower Your Risk—Learn the Risk Factors

A risk factor is anything that affects your chance of getting a disease or cancer. You have control over some risk factors, like diet or exercise. Other risk factors are out of your control, like your age or family health history. Having a risk factor does not mean you’ll get cancer, but it does increase your chance of developing it at some point in your lifetime.

A number of lifestyle factors, which can be changed, have been linked to colorectal cancer. The American Cancer Society even found that the links between diet, weight, and exercise and colorectal cancer are some of the strongest of any type of cancer.

You may be at risk for colorectal cancer if you have any of these changeable risk factors—now’s the time to talk to your doctor about healthy lifestyle changes you can make to break these habits:

There are a number of colorectal cancer risk factors you cannot change. These include:

If a family member has a health history of any of the following, you may be at risk for colorectal cancer:

  • Colon or rectal cancer
  • Cancer or rectal polyps
  • Stomach or bowel problems
  • Other cancers such as endometrial, kidney, stomach, small intestine, and liver
  • Crohn’s or colitis

As each generation ages, important information about your family’s health history can be forgotten or lost. Start a conversation with your family and learn everything you can about your risk factors for colorectal cancer and other conditions. Share your family history with your doctor, make copies of your health history for your family, and ask family members to share this information with their doctors as well.

Know the Signs and Symptoms

A number of warning signs could be an indicator of colorectal cancer:

  • Anemia
  • Rectal bleeding (dark or black stool)
  • Change in bowel habits
  • Diarrhea and/or constipation
  • Narrowing of stool
  • Persistent abdominal discomfort (cramps, gas, pain, or feeling bloated)
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Crohn’s, colitis, or irritable bowel syndrome

Often, colorectal cancers can bleed into the digestive tract. Sometimes this is seen in the stool, other times it appears normal. That’s why, for many people, the first sign of colorectal cancer is a blood test. In addition, many symptoms can be caused by other conditions like infections or hemorrhoids, so it’s important to see your doctor immediately to find and treat the root of the problem as needed.

Prevention and Screening for Colorectal Cancer

Did you know that colorectal cancer is up to 90% beatable when caught early? Screening is the number one way to reduce your risk of colon cancer. Despite its high occurrence rates, colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable and most treatable cancers—if it’s caught early!

Beginning at age 50, the American Cancer Society recommends that men and women at average risk for developing colorectal cancer should have the following screenings:

  • Tests that find polyps and cancer
    • Colonoscopy every 10 years
    • CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) every 5 years
    • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years
    • Double-contrast barium enema every 5 years
  • Tests that mainly find cancer
    • Fecal immunochemical test (FIT) every year
    • Guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT) every year
    • Stool DNA test every 3 years

If you’re at high risk, you may need to start screening before the age of 50. Talk to your doctor about screening recommendations based on your specific health and family history. To see the American Cancer Society’s full guidelines on screening and surveillance for early detection and to assess your risk and screening recommendations, check out the table here.

Join Frederick Health for “C IT Through: Colonoscopy, Changing Diet, Colon Cancer Prevention, and Cure”

Ready to take action to prevent colorectal cancer and learn more about the disease?

Join us for a special health and wellness seminar on Wednesday, March 14, 2018 at 5:30 p.m. at the James M Stockman Cancer Institute (1562 Oppossumtown Pike, Frederick). This event is free and open to the public.

Learn from medical experts Dr. Mark Goldstein of Monocacy Health Partners Oncology Care Consultants and Dr. Naderge Pierre of Monocacy Health Partners Surgical Specialists, and patients about the signs and symptoms of colon cancer, colonoscopy and how to prep for one, noninvasive Cologuard screening, diet and lifestyle changes, screening options, clinical trials, and more.

To RSVP for this event, email endcancer@Frederick or call 240-566-4483. Refreshments will be provided, and interpreters are available by advance request.