Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer (excluding skin cancers) diagnosed in males and females in the United States. It is the third leading cause of cancer death when the genders are considered separately and second most common when men and women are counted together.
Each year more than 140,000 cases of colorectal cancer are diagnosed and nearly 50,000 patients die from the disease. The lifetime risk of getting colorectal cancer is one in 20, or 5 percent. Ninety percent of cases occur in people older than 50.
While these numbers are frightening, the good news is that the death rate from colorectal cancer has been dropping steadily for the past 20 years. While some of the decline can be attributed to improvement in colorectal cancer treatment, much of the improvements can be linked to screening for the disease in individuals without symptoms. Screening for colorectal cancer not only detects cancers at an earlier stage but allows doctors to remove colon polyps before they can progress to cancer.
Many factors outside of family history and hereditary conditions influence risk for colorectal cancer, including age, diet, body weight, physical activity, smoking, alcohol consumption and diabetes.
To decrease risk for colorectal cancer, people should focus on the following:
■ Get to, and maintain, a healthy body weight.
■ Be active. Participate in 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week, and avoid sedentary behaviors.
■ Eat right. Limit red meat, processed food and alcohol. Choose whole grains. Eat 2½ cups of fruits and vegetables daily.
■ Avoid smoking/tobacco.
Individuals can further reduce risk with proper screening tests. Men and women at age 50 and of average risk for colorectal cancer should begin regular screening tests. While colonoscopy is the most well-known test, many options are available. Adults should discuss colorectal cancer screening with a doctor to determine which test is best for them. Individuals who are at higher risk should speak with a doctor regarding the most appropriate screening test and testing schedule based on their risk factors and history.