Unfortunately, colorectal cancer can happen to anyone. There are certain risk factors, however, which are known to increase the chances of it happening.
- Age: Colorectal cancer is more likely to occur as a person gets older, but it can strike the younger set in some cases.
- Ulcerative Colitis: This condition causes the lining of the colon to become inflamed. Those who suffer from ulcerative colitis are at an increased risk for developing colorectal cancer.
- Diet: People who maintain a diet containing a lot of fats and calories seem to be at a greater risk for colorectal cancer.
- Polyps: These are noncancerous growths on the inner lining of the colon and rectum. Even though they are very common in people over age 50, certain types of polyps can develop into a dangerous cancer.
- History: Women with a history of ovarian, uterine or breast cancer have a slightly increased risk of developing colorectal cancer. Also, those with a parent or sibling with colorectal cancer have a higher risk.
- Diabetes: Not a commonly advertised fact, people with diabetes have a 30 to 40 percent increased risk of developing colon cancer.
Time Is On Your Side
Tumors of the rectum and colon often begin as small growths about the size of a mushroom, which we call polyps. Most polyps are noncancerous (benign), but a small percentage can turn cancerous (malignant). The good news is that the turnaround from a benign to a malignant growth often takes at least five years. This offers a window of opportunity to detect and remove these polyps before they affect your health. The statistics show that if cancerous cells are detected in the colon before they spread, the removal of the affected polyps can produce a cancer cure in more than 90 percent of cases. But the bad news is that only one in four Americans undergo the recommended colorectal screenings at the appropriate intervals, so many of these polyps go undetected, making cancer more probable.
The Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer
Because colorectal cancer can strike without any warning signs, it is very important to get regular checkups. Without these screenings, by the time this cancer is found it may be too late. There are certain symptoms, however, which may signify that cancer is lurking inside. Please don't get alarmed if you are suffering from any of the symptoms I am about to mention. These can be the result of other, noncancerous, medical conditions. But no matter what, it is very important to check with your health care professional, even if just for reassurance.
- Change in bowel habits. Most of us know our regular patterns, but if there is a noticeable change, perhaps more constipation, diarrhea or even leakage, it may be cause for concern.
- Blood on or in your stool. I know, not fun to have to look, but this simple check may save your life. Please know that blood may indicate cancer, but that there are also many other noncancerous reasons for it to be present. In either case, it's best to get it checked.
- Unusual gas or abdominal pain.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Fatigue that isn't like your "usual" tired feeling.
- Unexplained low blood count, or anemia.
- Unexplained vomiting.
I know it is often scary to go to the doctor, especially with these symptoms, but we need to work together to identify what is causing your change in health. Hopefully, it is something noncancerous and easy to treat. But if it is a colorectal cancer, early detection gives us a terrific chance of helping you beat it.