Colorectal cancer

What to know about colorectal cancer

It's important to be aware of the risk factors for colorectal cancer,  including:
  • Age. People older than 50 are more likely to get colorectal cancer.
  • Family history. Close family members (parents, brothers, sisters or children) of a person with a history of colon cancer are somewhat more likely to develop this disease.
  • Colon polyps. Detecting and removing pre-cancerous polyps may reduce the risk of colon 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 healthy foods. 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.
  • Get a colonoscopy or other colorectal exam. Begin getting screened for colon cancer at age 50 – or earlier if you're at risk.

If detected early, colorectal cancer may 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?

Early detection is key to recovery. See your doctor right away if you experience any of these common symptoms:

  • A change in your bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation or a change in the consistency of your stool
  • Feeling that your bowel does not empty completely, rectal bleeding, or finding blood (either bright red or very dark) in your stool
  • Finding your stools are narrower than usual
  • Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas, pain, or feeling full or bloated
  • Losing weight with no known reason
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Having nausea or vomiting