Colorectal Cancer: Screening and Prevention

Written By: Chris Bauer MD

March was first declared National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month by President Clinton in February of 2020. Since that time colorectal cancer advocacy, research, and awareness has increased dramatically. Colorectal cancer is any cancerous condition that affects the large intestine or rectum. According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third most common cause of cancer death in females and in men. It is the second leading cause of death. Becoming knowledgeable about colorectal cancer is essential for everyone’s wellbeing. 

There are many genetic and environmental factors that can increase a person’s risk for colorectal cancer.  A family medical history of Lynch syndrome or other colonic polyp syndromes does confer a significant risk for people to develop colon cancer. Many times, genetic testing and meeting with a genetic counselor can determine if a person is a carrier for these genetic cancer syndromes. Additionally, inflammatory bowel diseases such ulcerative colitis and Crohns Disease show a strong connection with colorectal cancer. Several lifestyle factors such as smoking, alcohol use, and increased BMI all are factors that confer a higher risk of getting colorectal cancer. Increased consumption of processed meat and red meat have also been shown to increase one’s risk of getting colorectal cancer.

Just as there are many risk factors for colorectal cancer, there are also many protective factors that can assist people in lowering their risk of getting colorectal cancer. Having a healthy diet and regular physical exercise are two of the greatest preventative measures one can take to lower their risk of getting colorectal cancer. Planned walking routines as well as building more activity such as having more steps in your daily life are just some of the ways to accomplish this. However, the mechanism is unknown as to why increased levels of aerobic physical activity causes people to have lower levels of colorectal cancer. Additionally, what we consume in our diet also plays a tremendous role in our odds of developing colorectal cancer. Personal diets that are high in fruits and vegetables are essential in doing this. Taking fiber daily, increasing daily vitamin B6 intake, and adding calcium supplementation and dairy products in your diet also can be quite helpful.

Colorectal cancer can be treated most successfully if it is identified early. It is particularly important that the warning signs of early cancer are discussed. Screening for colorectal is essential in diagnosing asymptomatic people with cancer. The most common symptom of this cancer is a change in bowel habits.  Other common symptoms of colorectal cancers include abdominal pain, blood in the stool and unexplained iron deficient anemia. Abdominal bloating and extreme nausea and vomiting are signs of advanced disease.

Screening for colorectal cancer is a major preventative care initiative in the United States. Screening is recommended beginning at age 45 to 50 years of age depending on which guidelines are used. Additionally, if a close relative had colorectal cancer or you have had another type of cancer screening may need to be initiated earlier. 

The most common way to screen for colorectal cancer is by getting a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is when a small camera is placed in the large intestine and small colonic polyps are removed or documented for further therapy. Other screening methods include testing stool samples for blood and analyzing stool samples for different immunochemical particles that may indicate the presence of cancer. People should discuss with their physician which screening test is right for them based on their individual medical history.

By raising colorectal cancer awareness and by getting timely colorectal screening tests we can lower the rate of this deadly disease in New Jersey.



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