When it comes to colorectal cancer, cancer that develops either in the colon or rectum, there is good news and bad news. The overall number of colorectal cancer cases has been declining for decades for those aged 50 years and older. However, the number of cases among younger adults is on the rise, increasing at a rate of roughly 2.2% each year.
Having a family history of colorectal cancer can put you at a higher risk of developing the disease. But researchers believe that low-fiber high-fat diets, consuming highly processed foods, smoking, heavy alcohol use, obesity and a generally sedentary lifestyle are also contributing to the increasing number of cases among those under age 50.
Talking about colorectal cancer is challenging. Rarely does anyone have a conversation with co-workers about a change in bowel habits. Nor is rectal bleeding a popular topic at the family dinner table. So, here are a few facts that may be helpful.
Who is more likely to develop colorectal cancer?
Your risk of developing colorectal cancer is higher if you have a relative who has had cancer or polyps. Inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis also increase your risk, as do the lifestyle factors previously listed.
What are the symptoms?
In its earliest stages, colorectal cancer may have no symptoms. As it progresses, you might experience a change in bowel habits that continues, blood in or on your stool, diarrhea alternating with constipation, abdominal pain that doesn’t go away, and weight loss.
What is the best way to detect it?
The ‘gold standard’ for detecting colorectal cancer early is a colonoscopy. Admittedly, no one enjoys the colon cleansing preparation of laxative medications and diet restrictions that are necessary for the procedure. But twenty-four hours of discomfort is still a good trade-off for detecting a cancer that can be fatal.
Can it be prevented?
Like all cancers, there is no 100% way of preventing the disease. But many medical experts believe that exercise, a healthy weight, better food choices, decreased alcohol and smoking as well as routine screening colonoscopies can reduce your risk.
How can it be treated?
Once diagnosed, treatment generally depends upon the stage of the disease. A pre-cancerous polyp can be removed during a colonoscopy. Early-stage cancers are surgically removed with or without additional chemotherapy. Advanced or metastatic disease is treated with chemotherapy. Finally, newer treatments using immunotherapies are being tested in clinical trials and may benefit certain groups of patients.
Manish Thakur, MD | Hematology And Oncology | Corewell Health