According to the Colorectal Cancer Alliance (CCA), in the United States, colorectal cancer–aka cancer of the colon or rectum–is the third most common cancer and the second most lethal cancer in both men and women. The American Cancer Society (ACS) calculated that about 145,600 individuals in the U.S. will be diagnosed with the disease this year, and about 51,000 of these cases will be lethal. What can you do to assess your risk and best prevent the disease?
The key to surviving colorectal cancer, as is the case with all types of cancer, is catching it early; the CCA’s data shows that five-year survival rates for the disease vary widely based on where the disease is caught:
- 90% for cases caught at the local stage
- 71% for those found at the regional stage
- 14% for cancers found at the distant stage
There are a variety of risk factors that contribute to colon cancer. The Colon Cancer Coalition lists them:
- Hereditary: you’re 2-3 times more likely to develop colorectal cancer if you have relatives with the disease. If the affected family member was young at the age of diagnosis or you have more than one relative with the disease, your risk goes up 3-6 times compared to everyone else’s. Overall, about 20% of people with colorectal cancer have a close relative who has also been diagnosed with it.
- Diet: some studies have suggested that those who don’t eat a lot of fruits and veggies, as well as those who eat lots of processed and/or red meat could be at a higher risk for colorectal cancer. On the other hand, some studies suggest that drinking milk and consuming calcium could lower your risk of developing the disease.
- Lack of Physical Activity: being inactive could increase your risk.
- Weight: being overweight or obese could increase your risk of developing colorectal cancer.
- Personal Medical History: you could be at a higher risk for colon cancer if you have a personal or family history of ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, or cancers including breast, endometrial, and ovarian.
And the best way to catch colorectal cancer is through rigorous screening; there are a few different approaches specialists recommend for their patients based on various different factors. Other recommendations made by the Colon Cancer Coalition include:
- Staying at a healthy weight
- Eating healthy, with an emphasis on plant-based meals
- Staying physically active
- Not smoking tobacco or using any tobacco products
As is the case with all forms of cancer, vigilance is key. It’s important to have regular conversations with your doctor about how at-risk you are for developing colorectal cancer, and what the best way to monitor your colorectal health is.