Stopping colorectal cancer
We talk about colorectal cancer and what to do to stop it.
September 16, 2020
Understanding colorectal cancer
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the U.S. for men and women. The chances of getting colorectal cancer go up as you get older.
Colon cancer includes cancer that starts in the large intestine, also known as the colon, as well as rectal cancer that starts in the rectum. Like other types or cancer, colorectal cancer happens when abnormal cells form tumors in normal tissues.
Symptoms of colorectal cancer
Early colorectal cancer may not cause any symptoms. That's part of why it's so important to get regular screenings.
Symptoms that can be associated with colorectal cancer include:
- Changes in bowel habits
- Rectal bleeding
- Pain in the stomach area
- Blood in the stool
- Weight loss
It's important to remember that many of these symptoms could also be associated with other medical problems, such as hemorrhoids, inflammatory bowel disease (IBS) or infections.
If you have any of these symptoms you should see your doctor right away to find out the cause and get care, if needed.
The good news is that with screening and the removal of precancerous polyps, colorectal cancer can be stopped. There is a good chance you can fully heal from it, if it's caught in the early stages.
Lessen your chances
As with other diseases, there are many factors that make your chances of getting colorectal cancer go up, including:
- Inflammatory bowel disorder
- A personal history of cancer
- A diet high in red meats like beef, pork or lamb
- Not eating many fruits and vegetables
- Tobacco use
- Alcohol use
- Little physical activity
- Being overweight or obese
To lower your chances of getting colorectal cancer, you should:
- Not use tobacco
- Limit how much alcohol you drink
- Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables
- Exercise and get more physical activity
The best way to lower your chances of getting colorectal cancer is to get regular screenings. If you have an average chance of getting colorectal cancer, the American Cancer Society says you should start getting screened at age 45.
If you have a family history of colorectal cancer or other concerns that raise your chances for getting colorectal cancer, you should talk to your doctor and start getting screenings sooner.
Screenings and preventive measures
There are many different types of screenings for colorectal cancer. What’s important is that you get tested regularly. Everyone can find a test that is right for them. Here are a few ways to get tested:
In a colonoscopy, a long, bendable tube is inserted into the rectum to see the colon in real time. This is the best way to get accurate results and find polyps and colorectal cancer. During the exam, polyps can be removed and tissue samples taken for more testing.
Stool DNA tests
This is a new, noninvasive test to screen for colon cancer. It’s ideal for people who don’t want to do the usual preparation needed for a colonoscopy. This test must be done every year.
Double-contrast barium enemas
This test takes X-rays of the colon and rectum. It injects air and a special liquid called barium into the rectum and colon to help find tumors or large polyps. This test is not recommended for screening. But it can be useful in some situations.
This test is also known as a virtual colonoscopy. This is a scan of the colon that produces images of your colon. It can be a helpful tool when a colonoscopy is not possible or is not complete.
Make an appointment
Talk with your doctor about the different types of colorectal screenings and which is right for you. Your doctor will also tell you how often you should be screened to stay healthy and stop colon cancer.
By Ulrik Wallin, MD, PhD, MS
- American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society Guideline for Colorectal Cancer Screening. Last revised November 17, 2020. Accessed February 26, 2021.
- American Cancer Society. Key Statistics for Colorectal Cancer. Last revised January 12, 2021. Accessed February 16, 2021.
The information provided is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for professional health care. You should consult an appropriate health care professional for your specific needs.