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5 Things You Must Know About Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal Cancer

March is National Colon Cancer Awareness Month, so I interviewed Yale- and Rutgers-trained colorectal surgeon Dr. Lynn O’ConnorDr. O’Connor is not just an advocate for early screening, but also promotes healthy lifestyle as colorectal cancer prevention.
Colorectal cancer is not an old person’s disease anymore. Last week, The American Cancer Society released the largest and most detailed ever study on colorectal cancer. The study shows the disease increasingly hits a new target of young adults from 20-39. Previously, people weren’t screened for this cancer until they were in their 50s.

Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer

Some common symptoms of colon cancer include changes in bowel habits, changes in stool consistency, blood in the stool, unexplained weight loss, and abdominal discomfort.
I asked Dr. O’Connor what kind of blood in the stool was more likely to indicate possible cancer. Are some kinds more likely from some other cause like hemorrhoids?
Dr. O’Connor says bright red blood is more likely from a hemorrhoid, but that any blood needs to be evaluated by a doctor.

Causes of Colorectal Cancer

While a family history of colon cancer can’t be discounted, lifestyle factors can greatly contribute to the risk factors for this cancer.

Lifestyle factors that can increase your risk of colorectal cancer include:

  • Weight. Obesity can increase your risk of colorectal cancer.
  • Diet. A diet high in processed meat and low in fiber are factors.
  • Exercise. A sedentary lifestyle is also an indicator for higher risk for these cancers.

Facts about Colon Cancer by Age Group

The decline in rates of cancer for people over 55 is a good sign. However, it now appears those later-in-life cases occur early due to previously mentioned lifestyle factors.

Tips for Colorectal Cancer Prevention

Since some of the triggers for colon cancer are based on lifestyle, some preventive measures are similarly from lifestyle choices. If you have a family history of these cancers, or have any of the symptoms or other risk factors, talk to your doctor. She may advise you on ways to lower your risk, and help you decide if you need a colonoscopy.

In the meantime, keep your weight within the parameters for good health, eat a diet low in processed food, especially processed meat, exercise often, and increase you intake of dietary fiber, especially through healthful  food choices.

Also, have your doctor check your blood levels of Vitamin D. Higher levels of vitamin D in the blood may reduce the risk of colorectal cancers. 

When to Get a Colonoscopy

Typically a first colonoscopy takes place when you turn fifty (happy birthday!) However, African-American women should talk to their doctors about a baseline colonoscopy around age 45.

Colonoscopy to screen for for cancer isn’t for everyone. In these cases, ask your doctor about alternative colorectal cancer prevention tests. These are tests like flexible sigmoidoscopy, or a computed tomography colonography. They can also include a cancer detection test like the fecal immunochemical blood test.

Anne Parris

Anne Parris is a managing partner Midlife Boulevard. Her personal blog, Not A Supermom, is your typical mommy blog that her kids say used to be funnier. Anne has a business degree and a dusty résumé from a top accounting firm and a Fortune 500 company, which she reminds herself of every time she is washing underpants. She lives with her family in Virginia and blogs mostly to support her coffee habit.

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Monday 27th of March 2017

Thanks for this terrific article Anne. My husband and I just completed our colonoscopies (my 2nd and his 3rd) within the last month. They are not fun, but my guess is that they are more fun than cancer. I'm going to share on my FB and Twitter accounts.

Anne Parris

Monday 27th of March 2017

Thank you, Ligeia. I hope this helps someone prevent or detect a problem.

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