The survival rate for colorectal cancer has doubled in recent years, but there’s also been a 51% increase in cases among those under age 50 since 1994. That’s why the American Cancer Society has now lowered the suggested age for initial screening from 50 to 45.
Early onset cases are also likely to be more aggressive, making early detection even more important. However, younger patients may not recognize the symptoms, and doctors may not suspect cancer because of their age.
Fortunately, up to 85% of colorectal cancers can be prevented or successfully treated with adequate screening. Learn how to protect your health with these suggestions.
Colon and rectal cancers are closely related, so they’re often referred to as colorectal cancers. Healthy eating habits will lower your risk for these and many other cancers that can affect your digestive system.
- Limit fats. A diet high in fat can contribute to colorectal cancer. Cutting back on red meat and processed meat may be especially helpful.
- Count calories. Obesity and related conditions such as diabetes are also cause for concern. Develop a safe plan for losing excess weight and keeping it off.
- Eat more produce. Substances called flavonoids in fruits and vegetables can help keep your digestive system in top shape. Make plants a major part of your diet.
- Increase your fiber. Some recent studies suggest that fiber may have less direct impact on colorectal cancer than previously believed. However, it can still help you lose weight and keep your digestive tract healthy.
While some factors, like age and family history, are beyond your control, there are positive steps you can take to avoid colorectal and other cancers. Examine your lifestyle habits and seek appropriate medical care.
- Stop smoking. You probably know that using tobacco is the leading cause of cancer. If you’ve tried to quit before, it’s worth making another effort. It may take 3 attempts or more to quit successfully.
- Drink responsibly. Heavy drinking affects your overall health, including your digestive system. Current dietary guidelines suggest up to one drink a day for women and 2 for men.
- Exercise regularly. Staying physically active can help you lose weight and enhance your digestion. Find a variety of activities that you enjoy and aim to work out for at least 150 minutes each week.
- Watch for symptoms. Colorectal cancer often has no symptoms in the early stages, but it’s important to see your doctor if you notice certain signs. That could include rectal bleeding, blood in your stools, abdominal cramps, and sudden weight loss.
- Get screened. Colonoscopies are usually the most effective screening method. They can often detect small growths called polyps that can be removed before they develop into cancers.
- Consider aspirin. Some experts recommend low dose aspirin treatments for patients who have a high risk for colorectal cancer. Talk with your doctor to discuss what kind of care is appropriate for you.
- Take supplements. Similarly, some patients benefit from additional calcium, vitamin D, and folate. Your doctor can advise you about whether you need to supplement your diet.
- Follow up. About 1 in 21 Americans develop colorectal cancer. Even if you find yourself in this position, there are many effective treatments. In addition to surgery, your doctor may recommend chemotherapy, radiation treatment, immunotherapy, or drug treatments.
Experts are unsure about why colorectal cancer is increasing among younger patients, although there are theories about obesity or changes in gut bacteria. Whatever the cause, you can lower your risk by getting screened and eating a healthy diet.