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  Colorectal Cancer

Colon and rectal cancers have many features in common and are often referred to together as “colorectal cancer.” In most cases, colorectal cancer develops slowly over a period of several years. Most cases begin as a polyp—a growth inside the colon or rectum that later becomes cancerous.

Risk Factors:

A personal or family history of colorectal cancer, polyps, or inflammatory bowel disease are associated with increased colorectal cancer risk. Other possible risk factors include physical inactivity, a high-fat and/or low-fiber diet, as well as inadequate intake of fruits and vegetables.

Warning Signs:

Although colorectal cancer may be present without symptoms, if you experience any of the following, you should call your doctor to determine the cause and schedule a colonoscopy if appropriate.

  • A change in bowel habits
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Narrower than normal stools
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Constant tiredness
  • Blood in the stool
  • Feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
  • Abdominal discomfort: gas, bloating, fullness, cramps
  • Unexplained anemia
  • Vomiting

Prevention

If you have a personal or family history of colorectal cancer you should check with your doctor for advice about early detection screening tests. When these cancers are found and treated early, they can often be cured. Screening can also find polyps. The timely removal of these polyps can help prevent some cancers.

The American Cancer Society recommends that men and women at average risk should begin screening for colorectal cancer at the age of 50. Talk to your doctor about the type of test that is most appropriate for you. All positive tests should be followed up with a colonoscopy. People at higher risk should consider colorectal cancer screening earlier and/or more frequently.

A healthy diet is important to maintain a healthy GI tract and colon. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grain foods. Exercise lowers risk. The American Cancer Society recommends at least 30 minutes, five or more days per week.

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