Risk factors of colorectal cancer

The Cayman Islands Cancer Society is observing March as Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

Colorectal is a term that refers to the colon and the rectum. The colon, which is also called the large intestine or large bowel, is about 6 feet long and is the part of the body’s digestive system that moves waste material from the small intestine to the rectum, the last 6 inches of the colon.

Though we at times shy away from talking about these parts of the body and their general functions, we must be aware that a healthy colon and rectum is critical to our overall health.

Colorectal cancer is a general term for both colon cancer and rectal cancer. Colon cancer and cancer of the rectum (colorectal cancer) generally starts in the large intestine or the rectum. Cancer develops when the cells that line the colon and rectum begin to grow out of control.

Nearly all colon cancers start out as a small polyp. Generally polyps are not cancerous but finding and removing them early may keep it from becoming malignant (cancerous) over a period of time. Colorectal cancer can take from 10 years to 15 years to develop to an advanced stage.

According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancers in both men and women and the fourth leading causes of cancer-related deaths worldwide. Colorectal cancer is highly preventable, treatable and often curable. That’s why it’s very important to make regular screening for colorectal cancer a part of your routine health checks.

Screening tests are used to look for disease in people who do not have any symptoms. In many cases, these tests can find colorectal cancers at an early stage and greatly improve the chances of successful treatment.

Risk factors

No one knows exactly what causes colorectal cancer, but there are certain risk factors that can increase a person’s chances of getting and dying from this type of cancer. Having one or more risk factor doesn’t necessarily mean one will get the disease; likewise, someone with no risk factors could still get it.

Some risk factors for colorectal cancer cannot be controlled, such as: age: particularly after 50; a personal history of polyps or colorectal cancer; having a history of inflammatory intestinal conditions, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease; family history of polyps or colorectal cancer – especially if the relative (parent, sibling, child) developed colorectal cancer at a young age (under 55). In some cases, this connection may not be hereditary or genetic. Instead, cancers within the same family may result from shared exposure to an environmental carcinogen or from diet or lifestyle factors.

Another risk factors is race or ethnic background. Some racial and ethnic groups such as African Americans and people of Ashkenazi (Eastern European Jewish) descent have a higher colorectal cancer risk. However, some lifestyle habits that increase the risks may be managed, such as: diets – a diet that is high in red meats (beef, pork, goat, lamb, or liver) and processed meats such as hot dogs, ham, salami, bologna, and lunch meat can increase risk. Cooking meats at high heat (frying, broiling, or grilling) can create chemicals that might increase risk as well.

Lack of exercise and being overweight are also considered risk factors for colorectal cancer. Someone who is physically inactive is more likely to develop colon cancer. Getting regular physical activity may reduce your risk of colon cancer.

Smoking and heavy use of alcohol have been linked to colorectal cancer.

People with type 2 diabetes have an increased chance of getting colorectal cancer. They also tend to have a worse outlook (prognosis).

Colorectal cancer can strike without any symptoms. When symptoms do occur; seen with more advanced stage of the disease, they usually consist of the following: dark stool, rectal bleeding or blood in the stool (often though the stool will look normal); change in bowel habits (such as diarrhoea, constipation, narrow stool) that lasts for more than a few days; frequent abdominal discomfort such as cramps, gas, pain or feeling full or bloated; a feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely; unexplained weight loss; nausea or vomiting and body weakness or extreme fatigue.

Although most of these symptoms are more likely caused by something other than colorectal cancer, it is still important to see a doctor right away if any of these problems are present so the cause can be found and treated, if needed.

The Cayman Islands Cancer Society is dedicated to increasing the level of awareness of everyone on the various ways of preventing colorectal cancer through presentations. These are offered free of cost to companies and their employees, schools, clubs and church groups. To schedule a presentation call 949-7618.