How to safeguard yourself against colorectal cancer

By Dr. Babak Rad

Categories: Featured News, Cancer

This may sound familiar, but when it comes to preventing cancer, an ardent reminder is always a good thing.

This month marks National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, so it is an opportune time for everyone to take a hard look at lifestyle, better understand risk factors and commit to being proactive in maintaining colorectal health.

There were an estimated 132,700 cases of colorectal cancer in the United States last year, which represents about 8% of all cancer diagnoses, according to the National Cancer Institute.

If caught early, this type of cancer is highly curable, and there are many steps patients can take to lower their risk for colorectal cancer, and even possibly prevent it.

These include watching the intake of red meat, limiting alcohol consumption, and quitting smoking. Your body will thank you for reasons beyond lowering your cancer risk.

Maintaining a healthy weight, exercising and getting adequate amounts of Vitamin D and calcium can also help deter this type of cancer.

Although healthy living is beneficial to ward off colorectal cancer, along with a myriad of other health conditions, routine screening is unequivocally the best way to prevent this disease.

Depending on where the tumor develops in the colon, patients may experience symptoms, such as bleeding or a significant change in their bowel movements.

However, in many cases, there are no symptoms until the disease has progressed, which is why screening plays such a critical role.

There are several types of tests patients can undergo to check the health of their colon and rectum — the most well-known and common being a colonoscopy. We recommend that the average-risk patient be screened every 10 years starting at age 50.

Some people may be inclined to put off this screening, whether it's out of apprehension about what the test involves or the feeling that because they have no apparent issues, they must be healthy.

Screenings can find changes in this area of the digestive tract early that could progress to something more serious.

Polyps — a small cluster of cells that form in the lining of the colon — are among the most common changes we see in the colon and rectum. While they are often benign, some can develop into cancer, if left untreated.

For those with a family history of this type of cancer or polyps being diligent in getting screened is even more important. These patients should be screened more often.

Other at-risk patients include those who suffer from certain digestive diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn's Disease) or Type II diabetes.

With all that patients can do to lower their risk for colorectal cancer, seeking out a medical team who specializes in colorectal care is extremely important.

If cancer is detected, an experienced, multi-disciplinary team that can see patients through treatment is paramount for a healthy outcome.

So to get to the bottom of it: Knowing your risks is key, but being proactive could save your life.

Dr. BABAK RAD is a colorectal surgeon and Program Director of Hoag's Colorectal Cancer Program.