Colorectal Cancer Basics
It typically begins as growths—also called polyps—on the inner lining of the colon or rectum. Some, but not all, polyps can change into cancer over time. The two main types of polyps are:
- Adenomas: Precancerous polyp that may turn into cancer over time.
- Hyperplastic and inflammatory polyps: More common polyps that are typically not precancerous.
Know the Risk Factors
These factors may increase your risk of developing colorectal cancer:
- Age (colorectal cancer is more common in adults aged 50+)
- Family history of colorectal cancer
- Cigarette smoking
- Race and ethnic background
- Having type 2 diabetes
- If polyps are found, number and size of polyp may increase risk
Catching Colorectal Cancer Early
Regular screenings can catch the disease early enough that a doctor can treat it. Most men and women should start screening regularly at age 50. There are multiple tests available so you and your doctor can choose the best one for you. The most common types of screening are:
- Colonoscopy – This test uses a flexible tube that takes pictures of the entire colon. The doctor looks for polyps. Most people only need this test once every 10 years.
- Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) – This test allows you to collect a stool sample at home and send it to a lab. The lab looks for small amounts of blood in the stool that could be an early sign of cancer. This test should be done every year. If blood is present, then you should have a follow-up colonoscopy.
Talk to your doctor about the last time you were screened and if you’re due for another screening. If you’ve never been screened, then you and your doctor should determine which test is right for you.
If not detected early, more advanced symptoms could appear. These include:
- Bowel habit changes
- Diarrhea and constipation
- Bloody feces
- Abdominal pain and bloating
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Unexplained weight loss
- Lump in the abdomen or back passage
Treating Colorectal Cancer
There are several treatment options after a person is diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Surgery is the most common treatment. If the cancer is relatively small, your doctor may recommend a minimally invasive surgery in which the polyps are removed. If the cancer has spread throughout the colon, there are several options:
- Remove part of the colon that contains cancer and the surrounding areas.
- Create a way for waste to leave the body if you are unable release waste normally.
- Lymph node removal.
- Other treatment options include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy and targeted drug therapy.
Always talk with your doctor about what options are right for you.
You can make lifestyle changes that may reduce your risk of colorectal cancer, including:
- Have regular screenings.
- Eat a healthy diet. Follow a diet of fruit, fiber, vegetables and quality carbohydrates. Limiting saturated fats and upping intake of good quality fats.
- Engage in moderate, regular exercise, like brisk walking or bike riding.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese raises the risk of many cancers.
- Quit smoking.
- Avoid excessive alcohol intake.
If you want more information on colorectal cancer or think that you are at risk, talk to your healthcare provider.