The American Cancer Society estimates there will be about 145,000 new cases of colorectal cancer in the U.S. this year. While it’s one of the most common cancers, early detection through screenings and groundbreaking research has led to more people surviving a diagnosis of colorectal cancer than ever before. We’re sharing the basics of this condition so you can learn what actions you can take to lower your risk and why it’s important to get regular screenings.
What Is Colorectal Cancer?
Year after year, colorectal cancer is one of the most frequently diagnosed cancers in the country. It begins with polyps, or small growths, that develop on the inner lining of the colon or rectum. The cause of their formation is unknown, but doctors do know there are three types of polyps: hyperplastic polyps (which are benign), adenomatous polyps (which are typically benign but can become cancerous), and malignant polyps (which have cancer cells in them).
When polyps are cancerous, their malignant cells can grow into the wall of the large intestine and multiply. They continue to spread deeper and further into the tissue and, if left untreated, can travel to other parts of the body through infected blood and lymph vessels.
What Can I Do to Prevent Colorectal Cancer?
While certain risk factors, including age, ethnicity, and race, are unavoidable, there are other risk factors that you have control over. Being overweight or obese, smoking, drinking alcohol frequently, and being inactive for long periods of time increase your chance of developing colorectal cancer. Eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, lowering your alcohol consumption, and quitting smoking are healthy behaviors that can put your health on the right track.
Why Is Colorectal Cancer Screening Important?
Colorectal screenings let a doctor check the large intestine for the presence of polyps. Doctors will typically remove cancerous polyps (to clear out the cells before they spread) and benign polyps (to prevent cancer from forming) during the screening. “Early detection is important because it typically means the cells haven’t moved into other organs and, as a result, the condition is easier to treat,” says Thomas Campbell, MD, physician at St. Joseph Health Primary Care University Drive.
Typically, screenings begin when you turn 50, but you should speak with your St. Joseph Health primary care physician about earlier testing if you have inflammatory bowel disease, an inherited syndrome, or a personal or familial history of colorectal cancer. If your screening comes back positive for colorectal cancer, your doctor can refer you to a St. Joseph Health oncologist who can determine the proper course of treatment.
American Cancer Society | What Is Colorectal Cancer?
American Cancer Society | Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors
American Cancer Society | Can Colorectal Polyps and Cancer Be Found Early?
American Cancer Society | Colorectal Cancer Screening Tests
Healthline | Colonic (Colorectal) Polyps
Harvard Health Publishing | They found colon polyps: Now what?
CDC | What Should I Know About Screening?