You've probably heard a lot about colorectal cancer, and you may dread the idea of being tested for it. However, getting screened is one of the most important steps you can take to guard your health. The team at St. Anthony's is here to answer all your questions and help you take the steps you need.
Colorectal Cancer Risks and Symptoms: Get Educated
Gathering information is the best place to start. Find out everything you can about colorectal cancer and determine if you're at risk and what tests you may need.
As you may know, colon cancer affects the large intestine (the colon), which makes up the lower part of your digestive system. Rectal cancer affects the last section of your colon. These cancers are often referred to together as colorectal cancer. Often this cancer begins as small polyps on your colon.
For colorectal cancer, there are some risk factors for you to consider:
- Family history: If one of your immediate family members (parent, child, or sibling) has had colorectal cancer, you're at an increased risk for the disease. However, the link often has to do with similar diets and environmental factors, not with genetics.
- Intestinal conditions: If you have suffered from Crohn's disease or other inflammatory conditions, your risk for colorectal cancer is higher.
- Race: Research shows that African Americans run a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer than people from other races do.
- Age: In general, people over the age of 50 are more likely to develop colorectal cancer. However, it can occur in younger people as well.
- Lifestyle: Studies show that people who eat a diet that's low in fiber may be more risk of developing colorectal cancer. People who are sedentary, smokers, and heavy drinkers are also at increased risk.
- Other cancer: If you have had radiation therapy for other cancers, your chances of getting colorectal cancer may be higher. This is due to radiation that has been aimed at the abdomen.
If you want to decrease your risk of colorectal cancer, there are some guidelines you can follow:
- Eat right: Treat your body to a diet that's rich in fiber by eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The vitamins and antioxidants are good for you, and the fiber will keep your digestive system in good shape. A wholesome diet will also help you maintain (or regain) a healthy weight.
- Get active: If you seldom exercise, make an effort to change that. Find fun activities, and try to exercise most days of the week, for at least 45 to 60 minutes.
- Stop smoking: If you smoke, talk to your doctor about the best ways to quit.
- Limit alcohol: If you choose to drink, be moderate. Doctors recommend a maximum of one drink a day for women and two for men.
- Aspirin and other medications: Some studies have shown that regularly taking aspirin or other over-the-counter pain medications may reduce the growth of polyps. But talk to your doctor about what might be right for you.
You may wonder what the signs of colorectal cancer are. Often there are no symptoms in the early stages of the disease, but here are some basics you should watch out for:
- Blood in your stool, or rectal bleeding
- Persistent cramps, gas, or other abdominal pain
- Diarrhea, constipation, or other changes in bowel movement over the course of a few weeks
- General feeling of tiredness or weakness
- Unintended weight loss
- The sensation that your bowel doesn't completely empty out
If you have any of these symptoms, or a combination of them, talk to your doctor about being screened. For more information on colorectal cancer care and screenings at St. Anthony’s Hospital Cancer Center, please call (727) 825-1253.
St. Anthony's Cancer Center
1201 5th Ave. N., Suite 130
St. Petersburg, FL 33705
Phone: (727) 825-1253
Fax: (727) 825-1332