Lowering Your Risk of Colorectal Cancer

By Jasmine N. Aragon BSN, RN, CNML, Nurse Manager, Gastrointestinal Lab

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and now is a good time to learn more about colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon and rectum) and how it can be prevented or best treated.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States for both men and women combined. In 2014, an estimated 136,830 new cases were diagnosed, with 50,310 deaths attributed to the disease. However, colorectal cancer is a disease that can be prevented through regular screenings, a healthy diet and regular exercise.

How can you lower your risk?

To lower your risk of colorectal cancer, the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons recommends that you:

  • Get regular colorectal cancer screenings after the age of 50. Between 80-90 percent of colorectal cancer patients are restored to normal health if their cancer is detected and treated in the earliest stages.
  • Eat a low-fat, high-fiber diet.
  • If you use alcohol, drink only in moderation. If you use tobacco, quit. If you don't use tobacco, don't start. Alcohol and tobacco, in combination, are linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer and other gastrointestinal cancers.
  • Exercise for at least 20 minutes, three to four days each week. Moderate exercise such as walking, gardening or climbing steps may help.

Between 80-90 percent of patients are restored to normal health if colorectal cancer is detected and treated in the earliest stages. However, the cure rate drops to 50 percent or less when diagnosed in the later stages.

Colorectal cancer is preventable, treatable and beatable if caught early through screenings for and removal of polyps before they become cancerous. The American Cancer Society says that half of all colon cancer deaths a year could be prevented if everyone older than 50 got screened.

*Reference: American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons, American Cancer Society