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Colorectal Cancer FAQs

Mar 29, 2019

There will be 101,000 new cases of colon cancer and over 44,000 new cases of rectal cancer in the United States this year, the American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates. Here's what you need to know.

Although colorectal cancer is a potentially deadly disease and should be taken seriously, there is some good news. You can take measures to help lower your risk and catch it early. And because of screening and improved treatments, more patients are surviving longer, according to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Q: What is colorectal cancer?

A: Colorectal cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the large intestine, which is made up of the colon and rectum. Colorectal cancer occurs when tumors form in this area.

It is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women, according to the ACS.

Symptoms that could indicate colorectal cancer — and for which you should see a doctor — include but are not limited to vomiting, fatigue, very dark or bright blood in the stool, stools that are narrower than normal and unexplained weight loss.

As is the case with any cancer, colorectal cancer can spread from the colon or rectum (metastasize) to other parts of the body, meaning the disease has become advanced.

Q: What are some colorectal cancer risk factors?

A: Common risk factors for colorectal cancer include a personal or family history of colorectal cancer, having colon polyps, smoking and having inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.

Additionally, the risk of developing colorectal cancer rises after age 50. Other possible risk factors include diabetes and certain genetic syndromes, such as Lynch syndrome.

Q: How can I reduce my colorectal cancer risk?

A: Past research has found several factors that may reduce colorectal cancer risk, according to the FDA. Most of these factors are part of a healthy overall lifestyle. These measures include not smoking, limiting alcohol intake, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight.

And most importantly, screening is key. Screening can help your doctor catch colorectal cancer early. When cancer is caught early, the patient usually has a higher chance of survival.

Q: What is colorectal cancer screening?

A: Colorectal cancer screening is a process in which a doctor uses one of several kinds of tests to check you for signs of the disease. Colorectal cancer screening methods include but are not limited to colonoscopies, fecal blood tests, stool DNA tests, flexible sigmoidoscopy and computed tomography colonography.

Each of these screening methods has a different interval for how frequently you are to be screened.

For those with an average risk of colorectal cancer, health experts recommend getting screened at age 50. For those at higher risk of colon cancer, screening may need to be started earlier and done more frequently.

Your doctor can help you choose the right screening test and interval for you.

Written by Digital Pharmacist Staff

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