Colorectal Cancer:  Get the facts, Reduce your risk, Know your options.

Colorectal Cancer Awareness month is dedicated to increasing attention to colorectal cancer issues.  This awareness helps to bring much-needed support and attention to a disease that is the second leading cancer killer in the United States.

What are the risk factors for Colorectal Cancer?

It is not known what causes colorectal cancer, but there are certain known risk factors, which increase a person's chance of getting this disease.

Some of these risk factors are:

  • Age. Your chance of having colorectal cancer goes up after age 50.
  • History of polyps. Some types of polyps increase the risk of colorectal cancer.
  • History of bowel disease. Some diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease increase the risk of colon cancer.
  • Family History of Colorectal Cancer. If you have close relatives who have had this cancer, your risk is increased.
  • Race. There is a higher incidence of colorectal cancer in the African American population than in other ethnicities.  Also, African Americans have the highest death rates from colorectal cancer.
  • Diet. A diet high in fat, especially from animal sources, can increase the risk of colorectal cancer.

Symptoms of Colon Cancer

Cancer of the colon and rectum often causes no symptoms, especially at first.  But if you experience any of the following, please contact your doctor as these may indicate the presence of cancer.

  • Bleeding, almost always bright red, often with a bowel movement.  (This type of bleeding can often be mistaken for hemorrhoids.)
  • Urgency to have a bowel movement.
  • Loss of control of bowel movements.
  • Abdominal distention or bloating.
  • Alternating constipation and diarrhea.
  • Fatigue.
  • Weight loss.
  • Pain, which is a late symptom.

Screening for Colorectal Cancer:

Screening tests are used to look for disease in people who do not have any symptoms.  Quite often, these tests can find colorectal cancers at an early stage and greatly improve the chances of successful treatment.  Screening tests can also help prevent some cancers by allowing doctors to find and remove polyps that might become cancer.

  • Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT).  Should be done every year after age 50.  You will need to avoid certain foods two days prior to testing (spinach and iron supplements.)
  • Colonoscopy/Sigmoidoscopy.
    1. Have a baseline study at 50 years of age unless you have prior personal or family history of cancer, then begin at age 40.
    2. Documented polyps should be removed.  This decreases the incidence of developing cancer and allows the doctor to determine if a polyp is pre-cancerous or benign.

Proper screening occurs in less than 15% of the population compared with 80% for Breast and Prostate Cancers.

When should I be tested for Colorectal Cancer?

The American Cancer Society recommends that testing should begin at age 50 if you have an average risk for the disease.  If you are at a high risk for the disease, talk to your doctor about starting at an earlier age.

How do you treat Colorectal Cancer?

If someone you know has recently been diagnosed with Colorectal Cancer, you will need to discuss potential treatment options with your doctor, a Radiation Oncologist, and a medical oncologist.  Acceptable treatment options are:

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