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Colorectal Cancer: Recognizing Your Risk

March 16, 2022

Research indicates that by 2026, colorectal cancer will be the leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women younger than 50 years old. Knowing the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer can help you to recognize your risk and take early action. Colorectal cancer has a 90 percent five-year survival rate when discovered before it has a chance to spread.

Being aware of symptoms can be helpful. Many of these symptoms are also indicative of conditions other than cancer.

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“It’s critical that people know the symptoms of colorectal cancer to watch for,” says Brano Djenic, M.D., a colorectal surgeon at Texas Oncology Surgical Specialists–San Antonio Downtown and San Antonio Northeast. “However, what may be more important is that people understand their personal risk for colorectal cancer, and follow recommended screening practices. The most common symptom of colorectal cancer is no symptom at all, especially in early stages.”

Determining Your Risk

Having lower or higher risk does not guarantee whether you will develop colorectal cancer. Knowing your risk allows you and your physician to take appropriate action that may allow for finding colorectal cancer in its early stages and increase your chances of successful treatment.

Risk factors may include, but are not limited to:
  • Age
  • Family history
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Diet
  • Personal health factors like obesity, smoking, alcohol use, history of polyps, and type 2 diabetes
  • Inherited syndromes like Lynch syndrome, familial adenomatous polyposis, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, or MUTYH-associated polyposis

Lifestyle choices can play a big role in reducing your risk of colorectal cancer. Maintaining a healthy weight, quitting tobacco use, limiting red and processed meat intake, staying active physically, eating more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and limiting your alcohol intake may all lower your risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Knowing When to Screen

“Most importantly, those without a family history who have not experienced symptoms should start screening at age 45, as we have seen an increase in cancers and precancerous lesions in younger patients. The American Cancer Society recommends screening begin at age 45 as well,” says Dr. Djenic. “But patients younger than 45 who have changes in bowel habits, bleeding, unexpected weight loss, or who have a family history or increased risk should be screening earlier.”

After an initial screening, men and women should continue to be screened on a regular basis, depending on their screening method and their personal risk.

Screening methods include:
  • Guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT)
  • Fecal immunochemical test (FIT)
  • Multi-targeted stool DNA (MT-sDNA)
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy
  • Double-contrast barium enema
  • Virtual colonoscopy
  • Colonoscopy

During Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, take a moment to recognize your risk and consult with a physician about screening methods or to schedule a colorectal cancer screening. When it comes to colorectal cancer, recognizing your risk and taking action can be lifesaving.

For upcoming webinars visit www.TexasOncologyFoundation.org.