Colorectal cancer, which affects the colon and rectum, is the third-most diagnosed cancer in women, behind breast and lung cancers. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States.
Risk factors for colorectal cancer include:
- Age. Women older than 50 are more likely to get colorectal cancer.
- Family history. Women whose immediate family members have had colorectal cancer, colorectal polyps or inflammatory bowel disease are at higher risk for colorectal cancer.
What you can do to prevent and treat colorectal cancer
You can lower your risk for colorectal cancer by following these steps:
- Quit smoking. Smokers are more likely to develop cancer than nonsmokers. But after three years smoke-free, the risk drops to that of a nonsmoker.
- Exercise. Thirty minutes of moderate physical activity each day can help control diabetes and obesity two risk factors for colorectal cancer.
- Eat healthfully. Pay attention to the food groups include plenty of whole grains, fruit and vegetables, and avoid excess saturated fats, trans fats, sodium and sugar. Getting enough calcium can also reduce your risk for colorectal cancer.
- Take aspirin daily. People at high risk for colorectal cancer may benefit from taking aspirin or another anti-inflammatory medication.
- Get a colonoscopy or other colorectal exam. Begin getting screened for colon cancer at age 50 or earlier if you're at risk. Detecting and removing pre-cancerous polyps can prevent colon cancer.
If detected early, colorectal cancer can be prevented by removing precancerous polyps. Your doctor will recommend treatment based on the stage of the disease and whether your cancer is in the colon or rectum. Treatment options typically include surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and radiation therapy.
Talking to your doctor
Begin regular screenings for colorectal cancer, including colonoscopy, at age 50. But if you have a family history of colorectal cancer, colorectal polyps or irritable bowel syndrome, talk to your doctor. You might want to begin screenings earlier and start preventive treatment.
Am I at risk?
Take the Colon Cancer Risk Assessment to better understand the potential risk factors involved in developing colon cancer.
Early detection is key to recovery. See your doctor right away if you experience any of these common symptoms:
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Bloody or narrow stools
- Frequent gas pains, cramps or bloating
- Fatigue, nausea or vomiting
- Sudden and unexplained weight loss