Colorectal Cancer Risks, Prevention, and Testing
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National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance
Last Modified: November 1, 2001
Colorectal cancer develops slowly over a long period of time, usually starting out as a small polyp on the inner colon wall. By removing these polyps, it is usually possible to prevent colorectal cancer. Early detection of these colorectal polyps is the key to protection against this disease.
There are simple steps anyone can take to greatly reduce their risk of this preventable, yet deadly, cancer.
- Know your family. If an immediate family member has had colon, rectal, breast, prostate, testicular, or another glandular cancer, you should be tested when you are 10 years younger than they were when diagnosed.
- Exercise. Even a small amount each day can work towards reducing colon polyp growth.
- Hormone Replacement Therapy. If you are a woman, and are past the age of menopause, studies have shown a promising link between hormone replacement therapy and reduced colorectal polyp growth.
- Calcium & Folic Acid. Recent research has found that daily calcium and folic acid supplements, taken over a long period of time, may reduce your chances of developing colorectal cancer.
- Aspirin or Cox-2 pain relievers. Taking an aspirin a day also has been proven to reduce pre-cancerous colon polyp growth. Preliminary studies have shown reductions for newer, similar prescription pain medications.
Both men and women are at equal risk for colorectal cancer.
The older you are, the higher your risk; nevertheless, 13,000 cases will still be diagnosed in people under 50.
African Americans have higher colorectal cancer rates than men and women of other racial and ethnic groups.
Other unhealthy habits like smoking or being overweight increase your risk for colorectal cancer.
A big risk factor is having a family history or personal history of the following:
- Colorectal Cancer
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Colon Polyps
- Cancer of the Breast or any Gland
Blood Stool Test
A Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) is a simple at-home test that can be taken in the privacy of your own home. One type of test checks for blood in the stool in a toilet bowl. The other type of test requires a smear sample of your stool (feces) to be sent to a lab to look for hidden blood - a sign of possible colorectal cancer. (Annually)
A physician inserts a lighted tube into the rectum and looks for evidence of cancer or the presence of polyps in the lower third of the colon. (Every 5 years)
The best test. A physician inserts a longer, flexible lighted tube into the rectum and examines the full length of the colon. If polyps are detected, they can be removed for further examination. A colonoscopy can replace an FOBT and sigmoidoscopy if done every 10 years.