What You Should Know About Colorectal Cancer

By: Laura Gros, RN, CBCN, Patient Care Coordinator, Thibodaux Regional Cancer Institute

Even though colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer in the country, it is also one of the easiest to detect and one of the most curable. This month, during Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, attention focuses on the risks, warning signs and screenings that can save lives.

Despite screenings and positive outcomes for early detection, colorectal cancer still remains one of the leading causes of cancer death for both men and women in the U.S. Closer to home, Louisiana has one of the highest incidence and mortality rates in the country. The risk is higher for African Americans who are 20 percent more likely to be diagnosed with the disease.

Colorectal cancer, which begins as a growth or polyp in the colon or rectum, affects all genders, ages and fitness levels. The alarming rise in cases among younger adults prompted the American Cancer Society (ACS) to change its guidelines for regular screening from age 50 to 45 for people considered at average risk.

Like other elective procedures, screenings for colorectal cancer have declined since the start of the pandemic. This month provides a good opportunity for you to schedule a screening if you're not up to date. Talk with your doctor about any concerns or call Thibodaux Regional Cancer Institute at (985) 493-4008 for more information.

You can take control of your health and wellness by being aware of risk factors, warning signs and screening options.

Reducing risks.

According to the ACS, colorectal cancer can strike anyone. Certain factors increase the risks, which you can reduce with lifestyle changes such as:

  • Eat a diet rich in fiber and calcium and with lots of fruits and green, leafy vegetables; limit red meats and processed foods
  • Stop smoking and limit alcohol consumption
  • Stay active; sedentary lifestyles can increase risk by 50 percent
  • Maintain a healthy weight; obesity also increases the risk
  • Cancer risks typically rise with age; however, continued increases in colorectal cancer diagnoses for adults under 55 led the ACS to lower guidelines to start screenings at age 45
  • Genetics play a role in the likelihood of having colorectal cancer, which is four times higher if you have a parent, sibling or child with the disease

Watching for warning signs.

High death rates occur due to the disease having metastasized and spread to other parts of the body by the time it is diagnosed. A person can have colon cancer without experiencing any symptoms for years. However, be aware of the signs:

  • Changes in bowel habits, such as persistent constipation or diarrhea
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool
  • Persistent cramps, gas, bloating or abdominal pain
  • Feeling that the bowel doesn't empty completely
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss.

Screening works.

Incidence rates in people of screening age have been declining in the U.S. since the mid-1980s. The primary reasons to screen for colorectal cancer:

  • It's preventable—The earlier cancer is detected, the better the chances for a positive outcome. An estimated 50 percent of colorectal cases resulting in death are preventable.
  • It's treatable—Surgery to remove cancerous growths result in cure approximately 50 percent of the time. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are also used for treatment, depending on the stage.
  • It's easily detectable—A cancerous polyp can take from 10 to 15 years to develop into cancer. With regular screenings, doctors can remove polyps before they turn into cancer.

Protect yourself against colorectal cancer or take steps to detect it early by knowing your risks, watching for warning signs and getting screened. For more information about screenings contact Thibodaux Regional Cancer Institute, 985-493-4008.