Colorectal Cancer 101
If you still consider it taboo to discuss your colon and rectal health, you should know that talking about it could save your life.
“No one dies of embarrassment,” says Janice Rafferty, M.D., a board-certified colon and rectal surgeon with The Christ Hospital. “If you’re talking to your physician about your colon functions and health, you’re already on your way toward preventing colorectal cancer.”
Who’s at risk?
Colorectal cancer is the second deadliest cancer in the United States, partly because it often goes undiagnosed. Silently, polyps can develop in the colon or rectum and become malignant. For this reason, knowing and addressing your risk factors and undergoing the recommended screenings is crucial.
Risk factor: Family history of the disease
Reduce your risk by understanding your family’s history. “Talk to your immediate family members about their health history and how it affects your risk for colorectal cancer,” says Dr. Rafferty. Start the conversation by asking about all cancers that run in the family. Get a colonoscopy starting at age 50, or earlier if a parent or sibling had colon cancer.
Risk factor: A low-fiber, high-fat diet
Reduce your risk by becoming conscious of your diet. A low-fat, high-fiber diet gives food extra bulk that helps your body absorb and move toxins and waste through the digestive tract. Adult men and women should consume between 25 and 38 grams of fiber per day, respectively, from whole grains and fruits and vegetables.
Risk factor: Inflammatory intestinal conditions, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
Reduce your risk by establishing a relationship with a gastroenterologist. “Working with a specialist will help a person with inflammatory conditions monitor medications, overall digestive health and any additional preventive screenings he or she might need,” Dr. Rafferty says.
Risk factor: Smoking
Reduce your risk by kicking the habit for good. While smoke enters your lungs, particulates can be swallowed and absorbed in the digestive tract. Giving up smoking can help reduce your risk for the two cancers that cause the most deaths: lung cancer and colorectal cancer. Find smoking cessation classes here.
Risk factor: Obesity (BMI of 30 or greater)
Reduce your risk by living an active lifestyle. Being active and exercising daily helps the body move waste through the digestive tract and encourages regular bowel movements. The American Cancer Society recommends at least 30 minutes of physical activity five or more days per week. The results are even greater when workouts are 45 to 60 minutes.
Risk factor: Ignoring the warning signs
Reduce your risk by listening to your body. See your physician if you have prolonged diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, blood in stool, changes in bowel habits, abdominal cramping or unexplained weight loss.
Learn more about your colorectal health by taking a free colorectal cancer risk assessment. Find a physician to discuss your health or schedule a screening by calling 877-904-4YOU or visiting www.TheChristHospital.com.