What You Need to Know About Your Risk for Colorectal Cancer

a blue ribbon and a stethoscope to represent colorectal cancer awareness month

At Birmingham Gastroenterology, colon health is always top of mind, but with March being Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, we wanted to bring attention to some of the key facts and figures pertaining to the health of your colon. Colorectal cancer is the third most prevalent cancer for men and women, and it is third in the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Fortunately, with appropriate screening, almost all colorectal cancers can be prevented or detected early enough to be cured.  

Raising awareness of colorectal cancer risk factors is the first step in prevention. While certain risk factors may be beyond your control, recognizing these risks early on can help keep you informed about additional steps you can take to stay healthy. For the risk factors that you can control, make sure you’re taking the appropriate measures to decrease your chances of developing colorectal cancer. Finally, get screened and follow up with your doctor. Here is more about what you should know about colorectal cancer:

Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors

Certain unavoidable colorectal cancer risk factors include age, race, a family history of colorectal cancer, and a personal history of colorectal cancer and other intestinal conditions. It’s important to note that while your risk of developing colorectal cancer may be higher if you fall within these categories, it does not mean that you’re destined to get colorectal cancer. It just signifies that you need to be aware of these risks and take appropriate steps to monitor your health proactively. Get tested for colorectal cancer if you are:

-50 years old, or older

-If you are 45 years old and of African American descent. Studies have shown that the Black community is disproportionately affected by colorectal cancer and carries a 20% higher chance of developing the disease and a 40% higher chance of dying from the disease than other groups. That’s why the US Preventive Services Task Force and American Cancer Society support earlier screening in African Americans

-Anyone with a history of polyps and those who have had a parent or sibling develop colorectal cancer have an increased risk and should begin screening before the age of 50.

-Conditions such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease also increase the risk of developing colorectal cancer.

If you have any of the uncontrollable risk factors, it is essential to be mindful of other lifestyle factors within your control. Weight and activity level are examples of factors that you can change. Studies have shown an increased risk of colorectal cancer in people who are obese or who have a sedentary lifestyle. Food consumption also plays a role. Diets that are high in fat and low in fiber, as well as heavy alcohol use all contribute to this elevated risk. Finally, smoking increases the risk of multiple forms of cancer, including colorectal cancer.

How to Reduce Your Risk for Colorectal Cancer

The best way to reduce your risk for colorectal cancer is to identify applicable lifestyle choices that put you at a higher risk and then take measures to improve your health and minimize your risk. A good place to start is to quit smoking and cut back on alcohol consumption. If you choose to drink alcohol, studies suggest that men should have no more than two drinks per day, and women should have no more than one drink a day. To decrease your risk through your diet, be sure to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Not only will this help reduce your chances of developing colorectal cancer, but the vitamins and antioxidants will also help decrease your risk of other cancers. Diet and exercise always come hand-in-hand for a reason, and that’s because maintaining an active lifestyle and eating well is the key to overall health and wellness, as well as reducing your risk of colorectal cancer. While lifestyle choices are crucial in preventing colorectal cancer, the only accurate way to diagnose and treat colorectal cancer is through screening.

Consult a Gastroenterologist

If you are 50 years old or older or have any high-risk factors that increase your likelihood of developing colorectal cancer, set up an appointment at Birmingham Gastroenterology. Our team has decades of experience treating diseases and disorders in all parts of the digestive system. For more information, just out our informational video: Colon Cancer Essentials. To discuss your risk factors and screening options, call us at (205) 271-8000.

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