Colorectal cancer is the third-most commonly diagnosed cancer in men and women in the U.S. each year. According to the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, on average, the lifetime risk of developing colon cancer is about one in 23, or 4.5 percent. Moreover, the incidence of colorectal cancers in patients younger than 50 years of age is on the rise.
Risk factors for colorectal cancer
A family history of colorectal cancer confers the highest risk for developing it. However, the majority of colorectal cancers are sporadic and have been linked to several lifestyle factors These factors include:
- Diet - if you eat a diet that is high in red and processed meats, you may have a higher chance of developing colorectal cancer. Diets that contain high amounts of fruits, vegetables and whole grains have been linked to a lower risk for developing colorectal cancer.
- Weight - if you are overweight and physically inactive, your risk for colorectal cancer may be higher.
- Smoking - those who have a long history of smoking are more likely than non-smokers to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
- Alcohol - colorectal cancer has been linked to heavier alcohol use.
- Diabetes mellitus - those who have a long history of diabetes mellitus and associated insulin resistance are at an increased risk for developing colorectal cancer.
Colorectal cancer symptoms
It is important to be mindful of symptoms of colorectal cancer and to speak with your doctor if you have any concerns. Common symptoms include:
- A change in bowel habits
- Blood in the stool (bright red, black or tar-like)
- Narrower than normal stools
- Diarrhea, constipation, or feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
- Abdominal discomfort (gas pains, bloating, fullness, cramps)
- Unexplained weight loss
- Constant feeling of fatigue
Treatments for colorectal cancer
Surgery is the most common type of treatment for colorectal cancer for stages 0 through III. Surgery is considered in stage IV disease if the tumor is blocking the bowel or has compromised the wall of the colon. Types of surgery may include polypectomy and local excision, partial colectomy, laparoscopic-assisted colectomy, total colectomy, or a colostomy.
Systemic therapy (such as chemotherapy or targeted therapy) is the second most common form of treatment. If a patient is eligible, clinical trials should also be considered as part of the management strategy. Radiation therapy can also be considered in special circumstances.