Colorectal Cancer: Risk Factors & Prevention

Colorectal Cancer: Risk Factors & Prevention

Colon cancer is detectable, preventable, and curable. However, more than 140,000 new cases are reported annually in the United States. Many of these cases can be successfully treated with an early diagnosis. The risk of getting colorectal cancer increases as you get older. Other risk factors include:



Lifestyle factors that may contribute to an increased risk of colorectal cancer include:



The most common symptoms of colorectal cancer include:


  • A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool that lasts for more than a few days.
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool
  • Cramping or gnawing stomach pain
  • Decreased appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)


Among cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the country, claiming more than 50,000 lives each year. Additionally, only about two-thirds of adults in the U.S. are up to date with colorectal cancer screening.


Overall, the most effective way to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer is to get screened for colorectal cancer routinely, beginning at age 45.


Almost all colorectal cancers begin as precancerous polyps (abnormal growths) in the colon or rectum. Such polyps can be present in the colon for years before invasive cancer develops. They may not cause any symptoms, especially early on. Colorectal cancer screening can find precancerous polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer preventing colorectal cancer. Screening can also find colorectal cancer early when treatment works best.




Research is underway to find out if changes to your diet can reduce your colorectal cancer risk. Medical experts often recommend a diet low in animal fats and high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to reduce the risk of other chronic diseases, such as coronary artery disease and diabetes. This diet also may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.


Healthy Choices

Some studies suggest that people may reduce their risk of developing colorectal cancer by increasing physical activity, keeping a healthy weight, limiting alcohol consumption, and avoiding tobacco.


The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (Task Force) recommends that adults aged 45 to 75 be screened for colorectal cancer. The decision to be screened between ages 76 and 85 is made individually. People at an increased risk of getting colorectal cancer, especially those with a family history of colon cancer, should talk to their doctor about when to begin screening, which test is right for them, and how often to get tested. People with one or more first-degree relatives with colon CA or advanced polyps have screening started at the age of 40 or 10 years before the age of the youngest relative at the time of diagnosis.


Stool Tests

Three different stool tests are used in testing for the disease. The guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT) uses the chemical guaiac to detect blood in the stool. It is done once a year. You receive a test kit from your healthcare provider for this test. You use a stick or brush at home to obtain a small amount of stool. You return the test kit to the doctor or a lab, where the stool samples are checked for the presence of blood. The fecal immunochemical test (FIT) uses antibodies to detect blood in the stool. It is also done once a year in the same way as a gFOBT test. The FIT-DNA test (also called the stool DNA test) combines the FIT with a test that detects altered DNA in the stool. For this test, you collect an entire bowel movement and send it to a lab, where it is checked for altered DNA and blood presence. This test is completed once every three years.


Flexible Sigmoidoscopy

The doctor inserts a short, thin, flexible, and lighted tube into your rectum for this test. The doctor checks for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and lower third of the colon.

It is recommended that this screening be completed every 5 years or every 10 years with a FIT every year.



This is like a flexible sigmoidoscopy, except the doctor uses a more extended, thin, flexible, lighted tube to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and the entire colon. The doctor can find and remove most polyps and some cancers during the test. A colonoscopy is also used as a follow-up test if anything unusual is found during one of the other screening tests.

This screening should be completed every 10 years. For those with an increased risk of colon cancer, your doctor may suggest a different timeline for screening.


CT Colonography (Virtual Colonoscopy)

Computed tomography (CT) colonography, also called a virtual colonoscopy, uses X-rays and computers to produce images of the entire colon, which are displayed on a computer screen for the doctor to analyze. This screening should be completed every 5 years.


Anupriya Gupta, MD, is accepting patients at White River Health Internal Medicine. To schedule an appointment, call 870-262-1510.