Colorectal cancer is currently the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and second leading cause of cancer death in both men and women in the U.S. However, due to the great potential to treat colorectal cancer when caught early, as well as prevent its onset, it has been targeted by the American Cancer Society as a priority for spreading awareness to the public and medical communities. The organization’s recently published study: Colorectal Cancer Facts and Figures 2011-2013, highlights important information about preventative measures, individual risk factors, and the impact of early detection of colorectal cancer.

Doctors in La Peer Health System’s brand new Colonoscopy Center of Excellence are focused on increasing this awareness, and encourage regular colonoscopies and colorectal screenings at the Beverly Hills surgery center.

What Is Colorectal Cancer?

Colorectal cancer develops in the colon or the rectum, which are parts of the digestive system or gastrointestinal (GI) system. The GI system processes food for energy and rids the body of solid waste (fecal matter or stool).  After food is chewed and swallowed, it travels through the esophagus to the stomach, where it is partially broken down and sent to the small intestine and large intestine (colon). Water and mineral nutrients are absorbed from the food matter in the colon, while waste left from this process passes into the rectum, the final 6 inches of the large intestine, and is then expelled from the anus.

How Does Colorectal Cancer Form?

Colorectal cancer usually develops slowly over a period of 10 to 15 years. The tumor typically begins as a pre-cancerous polyp, a growth of tissue that develops on the lining of the colon or rectum. Polyps are common but can become cancerous over time. Fortunately, polyps are usually visible during colon cancer screening tests, and thus can be detected and removed early.

However, if the polyp is left alone and develops cancer in the large intestine, the cancer can grow through the lining and into the wall of the colon or rectum.  Cancer cells typically spread first into nearby lymph nodes, and can also be carried in blood vessels to other organs throughout the body in a process called metastasis.

Colorectal Cancer Facts, Statistics & Risk Factors

Several factors contribute to who gets colorectal cancer. These factors include race, age, sex, family history, personal medical history, and other contributing risk factors.

Colorectal cancer incidence and mortality rates are highest in African American men and women, followed by whites, and then other major racial/ethnic groups. Incidence and death rates for colorectal cancer increase with age.  The incidence rate of colorectal cancer is more than 15 times higher in adults 50 years and older than in those 20 to 49 years. Finally, colorectal cancer incidence and mortality rates are about 35% to 40% higher in men than in women.  The doctors at La Peer recommend that everyone get their first colonoscopy by age 50, but that African Americans schedule their first screening by age 45.

People with a first-degree relative who has had colorectal cancer have 2 to 3 times the risk of developing the disease compared to individuals with no family history. About 20% of all colorectal cancer patients have a close relative who was diagnosed with the disease. Therefore, doctors at La Peer recommend those with a family history get a colonoscopy 10 years before the age that the family member was diagnosed.

Another major risk factor is specific personal medical history of colorectal or other cancers, existence of adenomatous polyps, inflammatory bowel disease, or diabetes. Lifestyle also contributes to a person’s individual risk of colorectal cancer.

Here are some behavioral risk factors for colorectal cancer:

  • Inactivity: High levels of physical activity decrease the risk of colon cancer among men and women by possibly as much as 50%. The more physical activity in which people engage, the lower their risk.
  • Being overweight or obese increases the risk of colorectal cancer independent of physical activity. Abdominal obesity the most important risk factor with regard to weight.
  • Diet: Following the American Cancer Society’s recommendations will help reduce your risk. This includes an emphasis on plant sources, limited red and processed meats, a variety of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and recommended levels of calcium
  • Alcohol: Individuals who have a lifetime average of 2 to 4 alcoholic drinks per day have a 23% higher risk of colorectal cancer than those who consume less than one drink per day.
  • Smoking has also shown to increase your risk.

How to Prevent or Detect Colorectal Cancer

Regular colonoscopies are the easiest and most effective way to prevent colorectal cancer as they can both detect and remove potentially problematic polyps during a screening. All adults should get a colonoscopy by age 50, and those with certain risk factors should get one earlier.

A colonoscopy allows visualization of the entire colon and removal of polyps if present. Colorectal cancer screening by colonoscopy has a number of advantages: it is highly sensitive; examines the entire colon; and allows for screening, diagnosis, and removal of polyps in a single visit. It has been estimated that colonoscopy screening has the potential to prevent about 65% of colorectal cancer cases. If normal, the exam does not need to be repeated for 10 years.

Schedule a Colorectal Cancer Screening

Everyone age 50 or older should get a colonoscopy to detect and prevent colorectal cancer. While embarrassment and fear may prevent patients from scheduling a colonoscopy, it’s important to remember that the procedure is both a diagnostic and a preventative one, in that it allows doctors to remove pre-cancerous polyps before colon cancer can develop.

If you’ve been putting off scheduling a colonoscopy, don’t wait any longer to have this life-saving procedure. Call the Colonoscopy Center of Excellence at (888) 837-0459  or contact us online for a consultation.