March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month: Are You at Risk?

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month: Are You at Risk?

Summit Medical Group ( wants people to be aware of their risk for colorectal cancer. Even if a person has a risk factor or several risk factors for colorectal cancer, there is no guarantee that he or she will get the disease. In addition, some people will get colorectal cancer even if they have no known risk factors for it. For these reasons and because early detection and treatment is critical for successfully treating the disease, it's important to be screened.

"All people by age 50 are at average risk for colorectal cancer," according to Dr. Farshad Abir, colorectal surgeon at Summit Medical Group. "If a person has inflammatory bowel disease or other risk factors for colorectal cancer, he or she should begin screening at an earlier age."

Some common risk factors that can increase odds for developing colorectal polyps and colorectal cancer include:

o Age

More than 90% of colorectal cancer cases are diagnosed in people age 50 years or more

o Eating a diet high in saturated fat that includes a large percentage of red and processed meats as well as meats that are cooked at very high temperatures through frying, broiling, and grilling

Researchers believe chemicals in red and processed meats and chemical changes in meats cooked at very high temperatures increase the risk of colorectal cancer.

o Obesity

Studies show an increased risk of colorectal cancer in people who are obese

o Personal history of colorectal polyps

Having many as well as large polyps increase colorectal cancer risk

o Personal history of colorectal cancer

Previous colon cancer increases the odds it will recur in the colon and rectum

o Personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease

These conditions alter the cells in the lining of the colon, sometimes leading to cancer o Family history of colorectal cancer Although most colorectal cancers occur in people with no family history of the disease, research shows that 1 in 5 people with colorectal cancer have a family member who has or has had the disease

o Being physically inactive

The relationship between lack of physical activity and colorectal cancer is unknown, but researchers speculate that physical activity helps prevent obesity, a risk factor for colorectal cancer. In addition, cellular changes and other body processes that benefit from physical activity might help prevent colorectal cancer in some people

o Smoking

The risk of developing and dying from colorectal cancer is greater in long-term smokers, especially men, compared with people who do not smoke

o Excessive alcohol consumption (more than 2 drinks per day for men and more than 1 drink per day for women)

Researchers believe that low folic acid levels in heavy drinkers might contribute to higher colorectal cancer rates

Other risk factors include:

o Inherited familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)

Approximately 1% of colorectal cancers are found in people with a mutation in the adenomatous polyposis coli (APC) gene

o Inherited nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC)

Also known as Lynch syndrome, HNPCC accounts for 3% to 4% of all colorectal cancers

o Juvenile Polyposis syndrome and Peutz-Jeghers syndrome

Rare and inherited, these syndromes increase a person's risk of adenomatous polyps and colorectal cancer

o Being African American or of Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jewish descent

Genetic mutations increase the risk of colorectal cancer in people with these racial/ethnic backgrounds

o Having type 2 (noninsulin dependent) diabetes

Although researchers are unsure about the exact cause, the increased incidence of colorectal cancer in people with type 2 diabetes might be associated with excess weight. Some people with type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer also have a less favorable prognosis after they are diagnosed with colorectal cancer. If you have type 2 diabetes, ask your gastroenterologist how often you should be screened for colorectal cancer

o Personal history of treatment for cancer of any kind

Studies show that people who have been treated for certain cancers have higher rates of colorectal cancer. In particular, radiation treatment might increase a person's risk of developing colorectal cancer

Men and women who meet the risk criteria should ask a physician about their risk for colorectal cancer, what test might be right and how often they should be screened.

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