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  • The Colorectal Care Center at Rhode Island Hospital

  • Colorectal Cancer Questions and Answers

  • Colorectal CancerColorectal cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in the United States and, as the second leading cause of cancer death in the country, it is also one of the most deadly. Over 135,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, but if detected early, it is one of the most preventable and beatable forms of cancer. Stay safe by staying in the know.

    What are the symptoms of colorectal cancer?

    Many cases of colon cancer have no symptoms. If you experience any of the following symptoms, however, make an appointment with your physician:

    • Abdominal pain and tenderness in the lower abdomen
    • Blood in the stool
    • Diarrhea, constipation, or other change in bowel habits
    • Intestinal obstruction
    • Narrow stools
    • Unexplained anemia
    • Weight loss with no known reason

    What are the risk factors?

    Though the exact cause of colorectal cancer is unknown, certain factors can contribute to a person's likelihood of contracting the disease.

    • Age. Chances of developing colorectal cancer increase dramatically after age 50. Only 1 out of 10 people who are diagnosed are below 50 years of age.
    • Polyps (adenomas)
    • Personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease. Inflammatory bowel disease is different from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which does not carry an increased risk for colorectal cancer.
    • Family history of colorectal cancer
    • Racial or ethnic background. Jews of Eastern European descent and African Americans have two of the highest incidences of colorectal cancer of any ethnic group in the world.

    According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 75% of colorectal cancers occur in people with no known risk factors.

    Can it be prevented by any changes in lifestyle or dietary habits?

    Some risk factors for colorectal cancer can be avoided or overcome by changing habits or making healthier choices. The links between diet, weight and exercise and colorectal cancer risk are some of the strongest for any type of cancer.

    The following can contribute to the likelihood of contracting the disease:

    • A diet that is high in red and processed meats can increase colorectal cancer risk.
    • Physical inactivity
    • Obesity
    • Smoking
    • Heavy alcohol use
    • Type 2 diabetes

    Eating a more varied, vegetable-rich diet, maintaining a healthy weight and remaining active are some of the best ways to stay healthy and decrease your risk of colorectal cancer.

    What else can I do to decrease my risk?

    The single best thing you can do to prevent colorectal cancer is to get a regular screening if you have more than one existing risk factor, or are over the age of 50. Colorectal cancers almost always develop from precancerous polyps (abnormal growths) in the colon or rectum. Screening tests look for precancerous polyps, which can then be found and removed before they turn into cancer and cause further damage. There are several different kinds of tests used to screen for colorectal cancer.

    • High-sensitivity FOBT (stool test): Taken once a year, there are two types of FOBT. One uses a specific chemical to detect blood in stools; the other uses antibodies to test for blood, both signaling abnormalities.
    • Flexible sigmoidoscopy: This test involves taking a look at your intestines using a short, thin, flexible, lighted tube. It is taken once every five years.
    • Colonoscopy: This is similar to flexible sigmoidoscopy, except the doctor uses a longer tube to check for polyps or cancer. This test is performed once every 10 years.

    Because colon polyps and early forms of colon cancer generally have no symptoms, it is very important to be screened regularly. No one test is the right one; each has advantages and disadvantages. Speak to your doctor about which option is right for you. Contact us to make an appointment today.