In February of 2000, President Clinton officially declared March as National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Since then, it has become a valuable opportunity for cancer sufferers, survivors, and medical experts to help spread awareness of one of the most common types of cancers worldwide. While the exact causes of colorectal cancer are not yet known, experts have determined several risk factors.
Taking control over these risk factors is a one way to lower your risks and possibly even prevent colorectal cancer from happening to you or your loved ones. To learn more about colorectal cancer this month and to see what you can do to lower your risk, then keep reading.
The Burden of Colorectal Cancer
According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men. However, the death rate of colorectal cancer has been dropping in the last few decades thanks to advancements in prevention and treatment technologies. Screening tools now allow for detection of pre-cancerous growths while today’s treatment options have increased a person’s chance of surviving colorectal cancer. Research on colorectal cancer has also helped determine certain risk factors associated with cancer development and that people at risk of this type of cancer should take into accounts.
What is Colorectal Cancer?
Colorectal cancer refers to cancers that develop in the colon or rectum. The cancer results from DNA damage the causes the cells in the lining of the colon to spread abnormally forming cancerous growths. These cells can begin to spread to nearby tissue or other parts of the body through the lymphatic system. The symptoms of colorectal cancer can include changes in bowel habits, blood in stool, chronic abdominal discomfort, fatigue, and weakness. Most people don’t have any symptoms in the early stages of colorectal cancer. But once symptoms do appear, they can vary greatly depending on the type of cancer and location. If you experience any of the symptoms associated with colorectal cancer and if you have a family history of colorectal cancer, do make an appointment with your doctor to get scheduled for screening.
Causes and Risk Factors
The exact causes of colorectal cancer are not well understood. However, researchers have linked several risk factors to the development of colorectal cancer. These risk factors include inherited gene mutations, poor dietary habits, older age, being African-American, inflammatory disorders of the colon, a family history of colorectal cancers, a sedentary lifestyle, being overweight, having diabetes, smoking, and a past history of colorectal cancers among other things. While not all risk factors are preventable, some like diet and lifestyle factors are. Doctors will often focus on preventable risk factors in recommending preventive strategies for colorectal cancer. For instance, a diet high in saturated fats, red meat, and processed foods was often linked to higher colorectal cancer risk. For this reason, reducing your intake of these foods and increasing your intake of fruits, vegetables, and fiber can lower your risk of colorectal cancer.
Studies on Colorectal Cancer
Being one of the most diagnosed cancers in the US and worldwide, a great number of studies on colorectal cancer have been conducted over the years. The newer studies on colorectal cancer have linked colorectal cancer to the immune system and certain enzymes. For instance, a study published in the World Journal of Gastrointestinal Pharmacology and Therapeutics found that most cases of colon cancer are tied to the overexpression of the cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) enzyme. Studies have also found that colorectal cancer directly causes the suppression of the immune system which explains why prognosis for this type of cancer is so poor.
Colorectal cancer is also often tied to inflammatory diseases of the colon. Inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease who were found to have a 4-fold greater risk of developing the disease when compared to relatively healthy individuals. While reducing the inflammation through anti-inflammatory therapy would seem like a good way to lower cancer risk in this population group, the research on this is still inconclusive. On the bright side, most studies show that colorectal cancer can be significantly reduced with preventive measures such as:
- Avoiding red and processed meats and switching to fish and poultry
- Eating whole grain sources of carbohydrates
- Eating more fruits and vegetables
- Increasing your levels of physical activity
- Taking aspirin
- Screening, especially if you carry a gene that increases your risk of colorectal cancer.
- Switching to the DASH diet (this diet initially designed to treat high blood pressure was also found to lower colorectal cancer risk)
Learning more about colorectal cancer will help guide you towards an effective preventive strategy. If you suspect that you have or are at a risk of developing colorectal cancer, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with your doctor. With today’s screening tools, colorectal cancer can be detected before it poses any real threat. Other than that, you can also significantly reduce your risk of developing this cancer through simple diet and lifestyle changes.