Special to the Enterprise
Colorectal cancers are the third most common cancers in men and women, and the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. This year, more than 141,000 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer and an estimated 49,000 will die of the disease. Yet, colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable and curable forms of cancer, if caught early.
According to Oakunle Ajayi, M.D. general and colorectal surgeon at Saint Joseph London, colorectal cancer is one of the most treatable forms of cancer, and the rate of successful treatment is high, especially when the cancer is treated early.
“Colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon or rectum,” said Dr. Ajayi. “The cancer can often be prevented with certain types of screening that identify and allow the removal of polyps—grape-like growths on the wall of the intestine—before they become cancerous. And, certainly this type of cancer is most treatable when detected early.”
Dr. Ajayi said those who are at average risk for colorectal cancer should start getting screened at age 50. “If you are at higher risk, you may need to start regular screening at an earlier age,” said Dr. Ajayi.
Colorectal cancer most commonly occurs after age 50, but it is important to know that colorectal cancer can occur at any age and the disease rarely has any symptoms in the early stages, according to Dr. Ajayi. And, there are risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing colon cancer.
“Heredity is perhaps the strongest risk factor for developing colorectal cancer,” said Dr Ajayi. “It is estimated that approximately 20% of all cases of colorectal cancer are hereditary and this risk increases if you have a primary relative (parent, sibling, or child) who develops colorectal cancer.”
Colorectal cancer also has been strongly associated with lifestyle factors. The following factors may increase your risk of developing colorectal cancer:
Diet—Diets high in fat (particularly fat from animal sources) and low in fiber have been associated with increased risk of colorectal cancer. Eating a diet that is high in fruits and vegetables may help lower the risk.
Lack of exercise—Regular exercise has been shown to decrease the risk of developing colorectal cancer. Even moderate exercise (30 minutes per day) is beneficial.
Obesity—Obesity increases the risk of colorectal cancer, particularly when weight is distributed in the waist, rather than on the hips and thighs. A high body mass index (BMI) is also associated with an increased risk.
Smoking—Smokers are 30%-40% more likely to die of colorectal cancer than nonsmokers.
Alcohol—Regular use of alcohol in smokers and diets high in fat appear to increase the risk of colorectal cancer. However, there does not seem to be an increased risk in people who drink alcohol, but eat diets high in fiber.
Dr. Ajayi notes that certain medical conditions have been shown to increase the risk of developing colorectal cancer:
— Other types of cancer:
— Type 2 diabetes—Long-term insulin use in patients with type 2 diabetes is associated with a risk of colorectal cancer.
If you have several risks factors, your doctor will first review your medical history and give you a complete medical exam. One or more of the following diagnostic tests may be performed to detect the possibility of colorectal cancer:
— Digital Rectal Exam
— X-ray of the Large Intestine
— Fecal Occult Blood Test
— Endoscopy —In an endoscopic procedure, the physician inserts a flexible tube into the bowel and uses it to examine the interior surface of the bowel for irregularities, such as polyps. This may be limited to the lower colon and rectum (sigmoidoscopy) or may visualize the entire bowel (colonoscopy).
— Biopsy —During a biopsy, the doctor removes a tissue sample from a polyp for examination by a pathologist.
Early stages of colon cancer don’t usually have symptoms, but if you are having any of the following symptoms, you should see your healthcare provider right away:
Bleeding from the rectum
— Change in bowel habits
— Stools that are more narrow than usual
— General problems in the abdomen, such as bloating, fullness or cramps
— Diarrhea, constipation or a feeling in the rectum that the bowel movement is not quite complete
— Weight loss for no apparent reason
— Being tired all the time
If you’re concerned about colon cancer risk, talk to your family doctor. Your doctor can help determine your risk, and recommend the prevention methods that will work best for you.
Dr. Olakunle Ajayi is Board Certified in general and colorectal surgery with offices in London and Manchester. To make an appointment, call 606.330.2370.