Understanding Colorectal Cancer

Understanding Colorectal Cancer

Published on Thursday, June 01, 2023 by Haley McGaha

Let’s talk about colorectal cancer.

Per the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States.

It is thought that 1 in 23 men and 1 in 26 women will develop colorectal cancer.

Luckily, because of more frequent screenings and a positive change in lifestyle-related risk factors, the rate of people diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer has dropped yearly. However, the downward trend is mainly in older adults.

In people younger than 50, rates have increased by 1-2% a year since the mid-1990s. An article published in The Lancet Oncology describes the increase in rates could be due to a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors.

Factors that may increase your risk of colorectal cancer:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Being physically inactive
  • Certain types of diet – diets high in red meat (beef, pork, lamb, or liver) and processed meats (hot dogs and certain lunch meats) and cooking meat at high temperatures (frying, broiling, grilling)
  • Low vitamin D levels
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol use
  • A history of having colorectal polyps, colorectal cancer, or inflammatory bowel disease
  • A family history of colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps
  • Having an inherited syndrome – Lynch syndrome, familial adenomatous polyposis
  • Your racial and ethnic background – American Indian and Alaska Native people have the highest rates of colorectal cancer, followed by African American men and women
  • Having type 2 diabetes

Screening options for colorectal cancer:

  • Stool-based tests – depending on the test, need to be done every year or every three years
  • Colonoscopies every ten years
  • CT scans every five years
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years

Screening should start at age 45 and continue through age 75. Screening at age 76-85 should be determined based on a person’s preference, life expectancy, overall health, and prior screenings. For those over 85 years old, you should no longer get screenings.

For people with an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer (strong family history of cancer or certain polyps, IBD, and specific syndromes like Lunch syndrome), screenings should start before age 45, and more frequent screenings may be needed.  

Here are some signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer:

  • Change in bowel habits (diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool)
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Blood in stool or rectal bleeding
  • Stomach cramping
  • Unintended weight loss

Here are steps you can take to help decrease your risk of developing cancer:

  • Staying at a healthy body weight
  • Staying physically active
  • Diet – include more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and decrease your red meat and processed meat intake
  • Decrease your alcohol intake and avoid smoking. If you choose to drink, it is recommended that you have no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women
  • Make sure your vitamin D levels are adequate

  1. Colorectal cancer statistics: How common is colorectal cancer? Colorectal Cancer Statistics | How Common Is Colorectal Cancer? (n.d.). Retrieved March 30, 2023, from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer/about/key-statistics.html
  2. The Lancet Oncology. (2017, April 1). Colorectal cancer: A disease of the young? The Lancet Oncology. Retrieved March 30, 2023, from https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanonc/article/PIIS1470-2045(17)30202-4/fulltext
  3. Colorectal cancer risk factors. Hereditary Colorectal Risk Factors. (n.d.). Retrieved March 30, 2023, from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html
  4. Colorectal cancer guideline: How often to have screening tests. Colorectal Cancer Guideline | How Often to Have Screening Tests. (n.d.). Retrieved March 30, 2023, from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/acs-recommendations.html
  5. Colorectal cancer signs and symptoms. Signs of Colorectal Cancer. (n.d.). Retrieved March 30, 2023, from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-and-symptoms.html
  6. Colorectal cancer prevention: How to prevent colorectal cancer. Colorectal Cancer Prevention | How to Prevent Colorectal Cancer. (n.d.). Retrieved March 30, 2023, from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/prevention.html  


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