Health Care

What to Know About Colorectal Cancer

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March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Dress in Blue Day is the first Friday of March and you can dress in blue to honor patients and their families who are or have been impacted by any of the colorectal cancers and help spread awareness.

How to Keep Colorectal Cancer Out of Your Life

There’s a lot you can do a lot to lower your risks and raise your awareness of colorectal cancer. Not sure where to start? Three things top the list:

  • Get colorectal tests and screening appropriate for your age and risk factors
  • Know the warning signs and symptoms
  • Don’t delay getting checked If you see symptoms, especially bloody stool

Doctors can provide at-home test kits to examine stool samples, as well as smart technologies to see (and remove) small pre-cancerous or cancerous growths. Larger tumors are treatable, too, especially when you find cancer before it finds you.

Prevent Colorectal Cancers by Knowing the Facts

These red flags may mean your risk of colorectal cancer is higher:

  • Family history of colorectal cancer — especially at early ages
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Inactivity
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBS) such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Poor nutrition — especially diets high in red or processed meat

Changing Trends and Rising Risks

In recent years, colorectal cancer rates have been falling in older age groups. According to the American Cancer Society, that’s because more people are getting screened and making lifestyle changes that decrease their risk factors. However, colorectal cancer rates are now rising among younger people, and men continue to have a slightly higher risk than women.

Colorectal cancer also disproportionately affects the Black community. Their rates are the highest of any racial/ethnic group in America. African Americans are about 20% more likely to get colorectal cancer.

New Screening Guidelines

The ACS now recommends screening for colorectal cancer start at age 45. Depending on the screening type, your age, results and risk factors, screenings should be done every year, or every five to 10 years. Ask your doctor or care team what they recommend for you.

Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer You Can’t Ignore

If you have colorectal cancer symptoms, seek expert help about warning signs — especially blood in your stool or rectal bleeding.

Signs of colorectal cancer can include:

  • Anemia
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Bloating
  • Blood in the toilet after a bowel movement
  • Changes in bowel habits
  • Low back pain
  • Unexplained fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Urge to have a bowel movement when there’s no need

Colorectal Cancer Screening Tests

Screening tests can find cancer early when treatment is most effective. They could even prevent cancer because doctors can remove polyps that might become cancerous later.

Visual colorectal exams

Visual procedures let specialists look inside the colon and rectum. They use a camera-guided instrument or imaging device. Types of exams include:

  • Colonoscopy. This procedure lets providers view your entire colon and rectum. They insert a thin, flexible tube into the rectum to find and remove abnormal growths.
  • Computed Tomography (CT) colonoscopy. This option produces imaging of the entire colon so specialists can more closely examine the colon.
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy. This is like a colonoscopy but uses a shorter tube to check only the lower third of the colon. Doctors sometimes combine it with a stool test.

Stool Tests

Your doctor may recommend an annual stool test. Test options include:

  • Guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT): A chemical detects blood in the stool. Samples are collected via a take-home test kit.
  • Fecal immunochemical test (FIT): Antibodies detect blood in the stool. Your doctor provides a home test kit.
  • DNA stool test: This combines the FIT with a test for altered DNA. Your doctor provides a home test kit.

Colorectal Treatments

If diagnosed early, colorectal cancer has a five-year survival rate of about 90%. The primary treatment is surgery, though doctors use chemotherapy for advanced colon cancer. Other approaches include radiation therapy, immunotherapy and targeted drug therapy.

Schedule an Appointment

Peace of mind comes with getting a clean bill of health. And our cancer-care community at UChicago Medicine AdventHealth will stay with you and your family every step of the way no matter the challenges you face. Request an appointment to begin your colorectal screening.

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