In this article, we’ll help you learn more about colorectal cancer, its risk factors, and how regular colonoscopy can help you timely detect and prevent the disease and its adverse outcomes.
Colorectal cancer – or colon cancer as it is commonly called – is the cancer of the large intestine and/or rectum. It is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among men and women in the U.S. and accounts for about 52,000 deaths every year.
Colorectal cancer occurs when the cells in the large intestine (colon) or rectum start to grow and divide uncontrollably. Known as polyps, these cells grow on the inner lining of the colon or rectum. While most of these polyps are non-cancerous, some of them turn cancerous and start growing uncontrollably from inside the walls to the outermost layers. These cells then enter the blood vessels or lymph vessels and travel to nearby lymph nodes or distant parts of the body, causing cancer there – a stage (metastasis) at which it is almost impossible to stop cancer.
Risk Factors for Colorectal Cancer
While age is the No. 1 risk factor for colorectal cancer (it typically affects people who are 50 years and above), various other factors can also increase your risk for the disease. These include:
- Being African American
- Being obese or overweight
- Having an inflammatory bowel disease (IBS)
- A high fat, low fiber diet
- Smoking and drinking
- Having a family history of colon cancer
While these factors can increase your risk for colorectal cancer, the disease can still affect people who have none of them, which is why colonoscopies are so important.
Signs and Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer
Some of the most common signs of colorectal cancer include:
- A sudden, drastic change in the bowel movement – diarrhea or constipation – that lasts for more than a few days
- Stool that’s thinner or thicker than usual
- Blood, mucus, or change in the color of your stool
- Constant fatigue
- Frequent gas, bloating, cramps, or fullness
- Unexpected weight loss
Detecting & Preventing Colorectal Cancer
The colonoscopy is the gold standard in colorectal cancer detection and is the most widely recognized, life-saving colorectal cancer screening procedure to date.
Minimally invasive and highly effective, a colonoscopy allows the doctors to check, detect, and identify the earliest signs of colon cancer and even remove pre-cancerous polyps that have the chance of growing into cancer.
During the procedure, your doctor will use a colonoscope – a flexible tube-like instrument with a light and video camera on the end – to look at the entire length of the colon and rectum. Your doctor may also pass special instruments through the colonoscope to take a sample (biopsy) or remove polyps, if the need arises.
Performed in a closely monitored environment, a colonoscopy can help doctors detect cancer at very early stages, when the cancerous polyps are still small, haven’t spread, and the chances of treatment and cure are maximum.
Who Should Opt for Colonoscopy?
Anyone and everyone above the age of 50 should regularly get themselves screened for colorectal cancer. However, it’s best to start early if you fall under the high risk category and have:
- A personal history of polyps or colorectal cancer
- A strong family history of colorectal cancer or any other cancer
- A previous history of inflammatory bowel disease – ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
- A family history of colorectal cancer syndrome
- A personal history of radiation therapy in the abdomen or pelvic area
People who are obese, overweight, or who smoke and/or drink alcohol should also get themselves regularly tested for colon cancer. Talk to your provider for help determining your risk.
At EPIC Health, we offer a comprehensive, team-based approach for colorectal cancer detection and prevention. By evaluating your existing health condition, lifestyle habits, and genetic history, we can help you calculate your individual risk for colorectal cancer as well as determine a screening schedule that will work best for you.
From performing highly accurate colonoscopy exams for the detection of colorectal cancer to its prevention and treatment, our expert team of gastroenterologists and primary care physicians work with you, every step of the way, to make sure you stay healthy and enjoy a disease-free life.