Regular screenings, awareness key to colorectal cancer prevention

Doctors recommend regular screening to help reduce your risk for developing colorectal cancer.

It doesn’t garner as much attention as breast cancer or heart disease, but colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the US and the third most common cancer in both men and women.

In 2014, the American Cancer Society estimates there will be almost 97,000 new cases of colon cancer and 40,000 new cases of rectal cancer.

Researchers have identified a number of risk factors for colorectal cancer. Having a risk factor does not mean you will get the disease, but it can tell you whether you have a higher chance of developing colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer.

Risk factors you cannot change

  1. Family history of colorectal cancer
  2. Prior colorectal cancer or polyps
  3. Known hereditary colon cancer syndromes
  4. Inflammatory bowel disease
  5. Increasing age

Lifestyle-related risk factors

  1. A diet high in fat and red meat and low in fiber
  2. A sedentary lifestyle
  3. Cigarette smoking
  4. Alcohol use
  5. Obesity

Can I reduce my colorectal cancer risk?

Dr. Kevin Ho, gastroenterologist with The Austin Diagnostic Clinic, says there are things you can do to decrease your risk for developing colon or rectal cancer.

  • Undergo regular colorectal cancer screening.
    Treatment for colorectal cancer is most effective when it is found early. Regular screening can detect and remove polyps before they can become cancerous. In fact, over 90 percent of those diagnosed when the cancer is found early survive more than five years.
  • Consume a diet low in red meat, animal fat and/or cholesterol.
    A diet rich in these foods can increase your risk, so lowering your intake can help reduce your risk.
  • Consume a diet high in fruits and vegetables.
    On the other side of the spectrum, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is linked with a lower risk of colorectal cancer. Whole grains are also important. But studies have not shown fiber supplements to help, so it’s best to stick with whole foods.
  • Regular physical activity.
    Inactive individuals have a higher risk for colorectal cancer than those who are active, so regular activity may help reduce your risk.
  • Avoid obesity.
    Your chance of developing colorectal cancer is higher if you are obese, so you can help reduce your risk by shedding pounds.
  • Avoid tobacco use.
    Smoking is usually associated with lung cancer, but tobacco use is also associated with a number of other cancers, including colorectal.

How do doctors screen for colorectal cancer?

polyp removal

Image source: Thinkstock

ADC offers a number of screening tests to help doctors detect colorectal cancer early their patients.

  • Colonoscopy
    During a colonoscopy, the doctor examines the entire length of the colon and rectum. They use a colonoscope, which has a video camera at the end, so the doctor can closely examine the inner walls. The doctor can also use special tools to remove suspicious polyps if any are found.
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy
    A doctor uses a flexible lighted tube to examine the rectum and lower part of the colon. The sigmoidoscope has a video camera on one end and the doctor watches a monitor for any abnormalities.
  • CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy)
    A virtual colonoscopy is an advanced kind of CT scan. The scanner rotates around the patient to produce a series of 2-dimensional X-ray images of the colon. It can be done without sedation and is less invasive than a colonoscopy, but it still requires bowel preparation and a tube to be placed in the rectum so the colon can be filled with air.
  • Barium enema examination of the colon
    This test is also sometimes called a lower GI series. Barium sulfate is used to outline the inner part of the colon and rectum so doctors can look for abnormal areas on an X-ray.
  • Stool testing for occult blood
    The presence of cancer can cause the passage of blood through stool which is not visible to the human eye. This tests looks for blood, but it’s important to note that some other conditions, such as ulcers and hemorrhoids, can also cause bleeding to occur.
  • Stool DNA testing
    Colorectal cancer cells often have DNA mutations in certain genes. This testing looks for abnormal sections of DNA from cancer and polyp cells.

What if I’m embarassed to have a screening test?

Dr. Ho says it’s common for patients to be nervous and even embarrassed about undergoing a colonoscopy.

“Our professional staff are committed to ensuring that the procedure is performed in a considerate manner and comfortable environment,” Dr. Ho said. “We encourage all of our patients to voice their concerns about the procedure so these issues can be addressed. Most people are pleasantly surprised that undergoing a colonoscopy is not as unpleasant as they had expected!”


American Cancer Society