Colorectal cancer refers to cancer that develops in either the colon or the rectum. It is one of the most common and deadliest types of cancer worldwide. Surprisingly, simple lifestyle changes can significantly reduce one’s risk of developing colorectal cancer. If you are worried about developing colon cancer or know someone who is battling the disease, you probably want to learn more about this type of cancer. In this article, we cover everything you need to know about colorectal cancer.
Incidence of Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer accounts for over 9% of all cancer cases. Furthermore, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer worldwide and also the fourth most common cause of death according to the World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRF). It affects women and men equally but is much more common in those over 50 years of age. Those at highest risk of dying from this form of cancer are minorities according to Jonca Bull, M.D., director of FDA’s Office of Minority Health. This is because minority groups have limited access to screening and treatment. Epidemiological studies also found significant geographical differences in the prevalence of colorectal cancer which is why environmental factors are believed to contribute to its development.
What Causes Colorectal Cancer
While there is no one single identifiable cause of colorectal cancer, studies have found a strong link between colorectal cancer and diet. This link was mostly found in studies on migrants such as those who migrated from Japan to Hawaii. Since colorectal cancer incidence is low in Japanese populations, its increase among Japanese migrants proves that environmental factors such as dietary adjustments play a role in the prevalence of colorectal cancer. Furthermore, an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) explains that dietary changes could reduce the burden of this type of cancer for up to 70%.
What Diet Causes Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer is more common in developed than developing countries. Developed countries have adopted what is called the typical Western diet which is high in meat and fat content. Both meat and fat seem to lead to an accumulation of carcinogens in the gastrointestinal tract that could cause cancer. For instance, a diet high in fat is known to increase the development of gastrointestinal bacteria that can degrade bile salts into carcinogens known as N-nitroso compounds. On the other hand, heme iron in meat as well as heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon that develop in meat due to cooking are also believed to be carcinogens. Furthermore, best diets low in fruits and vegetables are also associated with the development of colorectal cancer due to less fiber content in these diets. Fiber is an important dietary component because it helps speed up digestion and passing of stool which decrease exposure of the intestinal mucosa to carcinogens.
Other risk factors
Colorectal cancer is extremely rare in people younger than 40 years of age. The risk starts slightly increasing once you enter your 40s and rises sharply after 50 years of age. In fact, more than 90% of all cases of colorectal cancer happen in people older than 50 according to the National Cancer Institute. Other known risk factors are a history of gastrointestinal polyps which are tumorous growths that could develop into cancer. Inflammatory bowel syndrome which is a term that refers to Chron’s disease and ulcerative colitis can also increase one’s risk of developing colorectal cancer. While genetics don’t play a large role in the development of colorectal cancer, approximately 20% of people who develop the disease have a family member who battled colorectal cancer. Furthermore, some rare forms of gene mutations can also increase one’s risk of colorectal cancer. Lifestyle choices such as alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking are known to contribute to many forms of cancers and other diseases including colorectal cancer.
Treatment and Prognosis
Treatment of the cancers of the intestinal tract involve types of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Treatment options will also depend on the stage of the cancer. If the cancer is localized on a polyp or small portion of your intestines, the cancer can be completely removed during a colonoscopy. If the cancer has invaded larger parts of your gastrointestinal tract, there may be a need to remove parts of the intestines. Survival rates strongly depend on the stages when the cancer was discovered. For instance, there is a 90% survival rate when the cancer was detected on small localized stages while only a 10 % survival rate for cancer metastases.
Colorectal cancer may be one of the most fatal cancers worldwide. However, this form of cancer can be greatly prevented by improving one’s diet by reducing meat consumption and increasing dietary fiber intake. Early screening increases overall survival rates because the cancer can be detected early on. If you suspect that you are at risk of developing colorectal cancer, getting early screening is one way to reduce your risk of developing this form of cancer.