Expert Advice for Colon Cancer Awareness Month

While colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers in the U.S., it is also known for being one of the few cancers that can be prevented. By scheduling regular colonoscopies, you can catch colorectal cancer in its earliest, most treatable stages. To learn more and schedule your colonoscopy, click here.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the US, but doesn’t have to be. Colon cancer is preventable and treatable. If you are 50 or older and at average risk schedule your colonoscopy today.

Cristina Capanescu, MD

Colorectal cancer usually develops slowly over a period of 10 to 15 years. And often, those who are diagnosed with colon cancer experience no signs or symptoms. The best way to catch colon cancer early, when it is most treatable, and to even prevent cancer from occurring is through colonoscopy. If you are 50 or older and at average risk schedule your colonoscopy today.

Adib Chaaya, MD

Colorectal cancer screening can catch abnormal cell changes before they become cancerous. When found early, the chances for successfully treating the disease are greatest.  Talk to your doctor about the colon cancer screening options.

Christopher W. Deitch, MD

Colon cancer is cancer of the large intestine (colon), which is the final part of your digestive tract. Most cases of colon cancer begin as small, noncancerous clumps of cells called polyps. Over time some of these polyps can become colon cancers.

Polyps are generally small and produce few, if any, symptoms. For this reason, doctors recommend regular screening tests starting at age 50 for people at average risk.  Colonoscopies help prevent colon cancer by identifying and removing polyps before they turn into cancer.

Joshua DeSipio, MD

A recent study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that for people in their 20s and 30s, colon cancer rates increased about 1 percent to 2 percent per year from the mid-1980s to 2013. Comparing different generations at similar ages, the study found that people born around 1990 have double the risk of colon cancer as people born around 1950.

While rates of colon and rectal cancer are climbing in young and middle-aged adults, they continue to decline in adults 55 and over. The reasons are not known, although it could be partly because it’s older adults who are benefiting from screening and early detection, raising the question as to whether screening should start earlier.

Adam Elfant, MD, FACG
Associate Head, Division of Gastroenterology and Liver Diseases

Six tips to lower your risk of colon cancer:

  • Tip #1 Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight increases the risk of colorectal cancer in both men and women, but the link seems to be stronger in men. Having more belly fat (that is, a larger waistline) has also been linked to colorectal cancer. Staying at a healthy weight and avoiding weight gain around the midsection may help lower your risk.
  • Tip #2 Increase your physical activity: Increasing your physical level of activity lowers your risk of colorectal cancer and polyps. Regular moderate activity (doing things that make you breathe as hard as you would during a brisk walk) lowers the risk, but vigorous activity might have an even greater benefit. Increasing the intensity and amount of your physical activity may help reduce your risk.
  • Tip #3 – Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains: Overall, diets that are high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains (and low in red and processed meats) have been linked with lower colorectal cancer risk. Limiting red and processed meats and eating more vegetables and fruits may help lower your risk.  Some research suggests that fiber in the diet, especially from whole grains, may lower colorectal cancer risk.
  • Tip #4 – Reduce your alcohol intake: Several studies have found a higher risk of colorectal cancer with increased alcohol intake, especially among men. Avoiding excess alcohol may help reduce your risk.
  • Tip #5Stop smoking: Long-term smoking is linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer, as well as many other cancers and health problems. Quitting smoking may help lower you risk of colorectal cancer and many other types of cancer, too. If you smoke and would like help quitting, call the MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper Tobacco Cessation experts at 856.735.6235.
  • Tip #6Get screened for colon cancer: Currently, only about two-thirds of people aged 50 or older report having received colorectal cancer testing consistent with current guidelines.

Samuel Giordano, MD

People with a parent, sibling, or offspring with colorectal cancer have 2 or 3 times the risk of developing colon cancer compared to those with no family history of the disease. Talk to your doctors about your risk and when you should start colon cancer screening.

Jack Goldstein, MD, FACP, FACG

You may be at increased risk for colorectal cancer if you have a history of polyps, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, or family history of colorectal cancer. Ask your doctor about your risk and if you are 50 or older schedule your colonoscopy today.

Alexandre Hageboutros, MD
Associate Head, Division of Hematology/Medical Oncology
Director, Gastrointestinal Cancer Program
Fellowship Program Director, Division of Hematology/Medical Oncology

There are several colon cancer screening options. If you are at average risk and are age 50 or older follow one of the screening options below:

  • Colonoscopy every 10 years.
  • Virtual colonoscopy (also called Computed Tomographic Colonography) every five years. A colonoscopy will be performed if polyps are found.
  • Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) Another option is a stool-based test every year.

Henry Ho, MD
Director of Endoscopy

Many people with colon cancer experience no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. When symptoms appear, they’ll likely vary, depending on the cancer’s size and location in your large intestine. Some signs and symptoms of colon cancer include:

  • Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
  • Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain
  • A feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely
  • A change in your bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation or a change in the consistency of your stool, that lasts longer than four weeks
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss

Thomas Judge, MD
Director, Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center

While most people diagnosed with colon cancer have no family history of the disease, those with a family history should begin screening at an earlier age. Talk to your doctor about your risk for colon cancer and when you should begin screening.

The bottom line: Colon cancer screenings save lives.  You know your body better than anyone else. Be in tune with it and speak to your doctor if you feel like something is off.

For people over 50, screening would prevent at least a third of deaths from colon cancer. Still, screening rates remain stubbornly low.

Michael Kwiatt, MD
Colorectal Surgeon

In most cases, it’s not clear what causes colon cancer. Doctors know that colon cancer occurs when healthy cells in the colon develop changes in their genetic make-up.

When they are healthy, cells grow and divide in an orderly way to keep your body functioning normally. But when a cell’s DNA is damaged and becomes cancerous, cells continue to divide — even when new cells aren’t needed. As the cells accumulate, they form a tumor.

With time, the cancer cells can grow to invade and destroy normal tissue nearby. And cancerous cells can travel to other parts of the body. Colon cancer screening is the best way to detect colon cancer early – when it is most treatable.  In fact, colonoscopies can actually prevent cancers from occurring by removing polyps during the procedure before they have a chance to develop into cancer.

Tara Lautenslager, MD

If you could take one simple step to prevent cancer, wouldn’t you take it? Colorectal cancer can be prevented by a having colonoscopy. During a colonoscopy doctors can remove polyps before they turn into colorectal cancer. If you are 50 or older and at average risk, schedule your colonoscopy today.

Steven J McClane, MD, FACS, FASCRS
Head, Division of Colorectal Surgery
Co-Director, Gastrointestinal Cancer Program
Colorectal Surgeon

Adults at increased or high risk are more likely to get colorectal cancer. This doesn’t mean you’ll definitely get cancer. But, you may need to start screening at an earlier age, get additional tests or be tested more often.

You’re at increased or high risk if you fall under one or more of these groups:

  • Personal history of precancerous colon polyps (adenomas)
  • Family history of colorectal cancer or precancerous polyps (adenomas). In other words, a family member had or has colorectal cancer or pre
  • cancerous polyps.
  • Personal history of Familial Adenomatous Polyposis or suspected Familial Adenomatous Polyposis without yet having undergone genetic testing
  • Personal history of Hereditary Nonpolyposis Colorectal Cancer or family history of Hereditary Nonpolyposis Colorectal Cancer
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (chronic ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease)

Cynthia Griech-McCleery, MD

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Colorectal cancer is cancer that occurs in the colon or rectum. It is the second leading cancer killer in the U.S., but it doesn’t have to be. A colonoscopy can save your life. If you are 50 or old schedule yours today.

Jamin Morrison, MD
Medical Oncologist

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, a time bring attention on screening for colorectal cancer. By taking action through regular screenings, you can reduce your risk of colorectal cancer. A colonoscopy with removal of polyps can prevent colon cancer from happening. Anyone at normal risk should begin screening at age 50 years, and those at higher should begin earlier. Talk to your doctor about your risk and schedule your colonoscopy today.

Steven R. Peikin, MD, FACG, AGAF
Head, Gastroenterology and Liver Diseases

Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers in both men and women. Although it is slightly more common in men, 1 in every 24 women will be diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer at some point in her life. While some colon cancer symptoms in women may mirror other digestive problems, if you are experiencing unusual or heightened GI concerns, talk to your doctor about your risk and screening options, especially if cancer runs in your family.

Apeksha Shah, MD

Recent studies show that cancers of the colon and rectum—are on the rise in among 20 to 49-year-olds. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The National Cancer Institute estimates that 140,250 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2018, and that 50,630 will die from it—but it’s also highly preventable with proper screening.

Yize Richard Wang, MD, PhD
Associate Director, Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center


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