Hidden Risks: What to Know About Colorectal Cancer

best med Wednesday Dr. Sande

Colorectal cancer is the second-deadliest cancer in the United States — largely because it goes undiagnosed. Dr. Craig Sande, medical director for gastrointestinal cancer at Renown, discuss the symptoms, risk factors and key screenings used to detect the disease.

Did you know that colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in the U.S.? We asked Craig Sande, M.D., of the Renown Institute for Cancer, about risk factors, symptoms and lifestyle changes that could affect the likelihood of this disease.

Learning About Colorectal Cancer

What are some of the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer?

Many cases go undiagnosed because polyps can develop and become cancerous without any symptoms. Additionally, since colorectal cancer begins as small polyps, symptoms usually aren’t seen until later stages. This is why screenings are especially important.

For those who do experience symptoms, the signs are often tied to your bowel habits. This can include changes such as constipation or diarrhea, narrow or dark stool, rectal bleeding, abdominal cramping, weakness and fatigue, or unintended weight loss.

What are some of the risk factors associated with this type of cancer?

There are risk factors that can and can’t be controlled. Factors that can’t be controlled include age, race, personal and family histories as well as certain genetic syndromes.

People over age 50 are most at risk and colorectal cancer is more common in African Americans and those of eastern European Jewish descent. This type of cancer is also more common in those who have been diagnosed with colorectal cancer, polyps, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and long-term inflammatory bowel disease. Family history can also play a role, so it’s important to discuss any of these risk factors with your doctor.

There are also lifestyle factors that can help reduce your risk. Risk factors include being overweight, having a diet high in red and processed meat, as well as smoking and consuming excess alcohol.

Conversely, diets high in fruits and vegetables and a regular exercise routine can help lower your risk.

If someone has some of these risk factors, what should they do? Do they need to get tested?

If you are 50 or older and have any of these risk factors, we recommend a formal colorectal risk assessment.

The most common form of screening is a colonoscopy. This screening lets your doctor examine the length of your colon, map out any potential problem areas and remove polyps. For most people, colonoscopies are recommended every 10 years starting at age 50. But depending on your results and risk factors, more frequent screenings may be needed or you may need to start screening sooner.

What do diagnosis and treatment look like for this type of cancer?

There are a number of diagnostic options for colorectal cancer including endoscopic ultrasound; CT, MRI and PET scans; as well as biopsy and pathology reports. These technologies allow your doctor to get images of your colon and evaluate what treatment is needed, as well as how treatment is progressing.

Treatment varies for each individual working with their doctor. In the case of colorectal cancer treatment, Renown Institute for Cancer offers chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery and clinical trials.

To learn more about colon and rectal cancers, please visit the Institute for Cancer.