What is Colorectal Cancer?
Colorectal cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the last part of the large intestine (colon). It usually begins as small, noncancerous clumps of cells called polyps that form inside the colon. Over time these polyps may turn into cancer. Colorectal cancer is the third most-common type of cancer and the third most-common cause of cancer-related death in the United States.
Symptoms of colorectal cancer can include blood in or on your stool, changes in bowel habits, narrower-than-normal stools, frequent gas pain, unexplained weight loss and fatigue. Sometimes you may not have any symptoms at all.
Risk Factors for Colorectal Cancer
Risk factors that you can control include poor diet, lack of physical activity, obesity, smoking and type 2 diabetes; these can all increase the risk of getting colorectal cancer. Other factors are nonmodifiable including age, radiation exposure, a family history of colorectal cancer, a personal history of polyps or inflammatory bowel conditions.
When Should I Get Screened for Colorectal Cancer?
Screening for colorectal cancer typically starts at age 45; however, colorectal cancer can impact families at any age.
If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, advanced colorectal polyps or have been diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease, you may need to be screened earlier. If you’re seeing blood in your stools, you also need to be screened earlier.
The Screening Process
Various screening tests are available including a colonoscopy, fecal immunochemical test (FIT), Cologuard and CT colonography. Talk with your doctor about choosing the best one for you.
If your screening test requires you to take a prep that clears your colon beforehand, clear your schedule so you can be at home (or somewhere comfortable) with access to a toilet, and stay close to the bathroom. Trust us on this one!
If you’re taking a liquid prep, drink it cold and with a straw, which can improve the taste. Hydrate by drinking clear liquids often — water, coconut water, electrolyte drinks and warm broth are good options. While drinking 32 oz. of liquid prep may seem overwhelming, if you split it up into 8 oz. and drink every 15 minutes, it is very doable. Drinking all this liquid is important because it helps you stay hydrated as your body is clearing out.
I Got Screened. Now What?
Make sure you get a report from your doctor — and that you understand it. Ask your doctor whether your polyp findings (if any were found) increase the risk of cancer for your family and whether they need to be screened earlier. If you had polyps removed, ask what type they were and if they’re precancerous.
If anything abnormal appeared during your screening or if you’re facing a colorectal cancer diagnosis, visit fightcolorectalcancer.org to learn more. You can also visit www.nghs.com/colorectal-cancer.
Remember that colorectal cancer is preventable through screening – it could save your life!
Learn More about NGMC Cancer Services
At NGMC, our award-winning team of physicians and other professionals will help you navigate the many choices available to you for colon cancer treatment and develop a plan that best meets your unique disease and situation.
From surgery to nutrition support and pastoral care, our goal is to help you live life as fully as possible throughout your treatment and in your life as a cancer survivor. We also offer a Patient Navigation Program to help guide you through your cancer journey. NGMC’s survival and screening rates continue to beat national benchmarks.