Colorectal Cancer Facts and Prevention

Colorectal Cancer Facts and Prevention

Colon cancer is the most curable in its early stages. At the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, we know that routine screenings save lives every day. Advocate for your health and talk with a health care professional to make an informed decision on which screenings are right for you.

What is colorectal cancer?

  • Colorectal cancer is a term that includes cancers of the colon (the longest part of the large intestine) and cancers of the rectum.
  • Colorectal cancer is the growth of cancer cells in the colon or rectum.
  • Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women.
  • Colorectal cancer often begins as a non-cancerous polyp or growth. These polyps can often be found and removed before they turn into cancer.

Who can get colorectal cancer?

Any man or woman can get colorectal cancer, although there are certain factors that increase your risk. In fact, more than 140,000 people get colorectal cancer in the U.S. each year. People at increased risk include men and women who:

  • Are age 45 and older.
  • Have a family history of colorectal cancer or other genetic factors (e.g. Lynch syndrome, or familial polyposis).
  • Have a personal history of colorectal polyps.
  • Have Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), also known as Crohn’s disease or Colitis.
  • Are obese and/or are physically inactive.
  • Are regular tobacco or alcohol users.
  • Have a diet that is high fat or high in red or processed meat and low in fiber, calcium, fruit and vegetables.
  • Have Type 2 diabetes.

More than 140,000 people will get colorectal cancer in the United States each year and over 50,000 will die.

What are the symptoms of colorectal cancer?

  • The most common symptom is a change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation or blood in the stool.
  • Other symptoms include cramping or pain in the lower abdominal (stomach) area, constant tiredness or lack of energy.
  • Early colorectal cancer has no symptoms, so regular screening is vital to early detection.

How do I get checked for colorectal cancer?

There are a variety of screening tests available. Some may find polyps and colorectal cancer, while others mainly find colorectal cancer. Many colorectal screening tests can find and remove polyps before they turn into cancer. In general, regular screening for colorectal cancer should include:

  • A fecal occult blood test (FOBT) every year or a fecal immunochemical test (FIT ) every year
  • A Stool DNA test (sDNA ) every 3 years
  • Either a flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years or a colonoscopy every 10 years
  • Other screening tests are available. Ask your health care provider which tests are right for you

When do I get checked for colorectal cancer?

  • People at average risk should start screening tests at age 45.
  • People at an increased risk should discuss their screening needs with their health care provider before age 45.
  • People 76 years of age or older should discuss the need for continued colorectal screenings with their health care provider.

How do I lower my risk for colorectal cancer?

Research is still being done to understand how to lower your risk for colorectal cancer. Following these general guidelines may help reduce your risk:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Be physically active.
  • Eat five or more servings of a variety of vegetables and fruits each day.
  • Choose whole grains and fiber-rich foods.
  • Limit your intake of processed and red meats.
  • Do not smoke.
  • Avoid excess alcohol.
  • The effects of vitamins and other supplements are not clear. More research is needed to assess the potential benefits to colorectal cancer risk reduction.

This information is intended to serve as a guideline only. Screening needs vary for each individual depending on your overall cancer risk. Please consult with a health care professional to decide which screenings are right for you and to make an informed decision.

More Information

If you would like to learn more about any of these topics call the Patient & Community Education department at 1-800-527-6266.