As a member of the bipartisan Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program of the
Prevent Cancer Foundation ® , I want to share the following information as we observe National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.
You’re never too young to start thinking about your future, and that’s particularly true when it
comes to your health. Colorectal cancer is often thought of as an “old person’s disease,” but
rates in people younger than 50 have risen over the past several years. Lifestyle factors can
play a significant role in your risk for colorectal cancer—so it’s important to form healthy habits now to prevent cancer as you age.
More than 145,000 Americans will be diagnosed and an estimated 51,020 will die of colorectal cancer this year. In state alone, an estimated 2,620 will be diagnosed and 880 will die of the disease. The good news is fewer people overall are being diagnosed, because it’s one of the few cancers that can be prevented with screening.
Although more research needs to be done, recent studies indicate that obesity and a sedentary lifestyle may be partly to blame for the increase in colorectal cancer among younger adults.
Other lifestyle factors, such as smoking, drinking alcohol in excess and eating a lot of red or
processed meats, also increase your risk of colorectal cancer. Having a personal or family
history of colorectal cancer or polyps (abnormal growths), certain genetic conditions such as
Lynch syndrome, or a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease or type 2 diabetes puts
you at greater risk as well.
Colorectal cancer doesn’t usually show symptoms until the disease reaches more advanced
stages, when it’s harder to treat. Visit a health care professional immediately if you experience rectal bleeding, blood in the stool, a change in bowel habits or stool shape, the feeling that the bowel movement is not complete, abdominal bloating or cramps, loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss.
Because of the increasing rate of colorectal cancer among younger adults, the Prevent Cancer Foundation ® now encourages screening to begin at age 45 for those at average risk. With screening, your doctor can detect polyps that can then be monitored or removed before they become cancer. Although the prep can be unpleasant, the most effective screening method is the colonoscopy, which should be done every 10 years until at least age 75 for those at average risk. If you can’t or won’t get a colonoscopy, talk to your health care professional about other screening options, such as CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) or at-home stool tests—the best test is the one that gets done. If you’re at high risk for colorectal cancer, you may need to begin screening earlier or be screened more often.
Colorectal cancer is preventable, treatable and beatable—if the right steps are taken. Don’t
smoke, exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet—and don’t put off screening. To learn more about colorectal cancer prevention, visit www.preventcancer.org/colorectal.
Nicole Beus Harris is the spouse of Representative Andy Harris, M.D. Statistics provided by the American Cancer Society.