Like so many diseases, the outlook for colorectal cancer depends on when it is found. If it’s caught early, before it spreads outside the colon wall, surgery to remove it is usually effective.
“Over 90% of patients with an early diagnosis of colorectal cancer survive for more than five years,” explains colorectal surgeon Teresa H. deBeche-Adams, MD.
But if colorectal cancer is detected later, after it’s spread beyond the colon wall, the survival rate is less than 10%. Unfortunately, only 37 percent of these cancers are detected early.
Dr. deBeche-Adams explains, “That’s why it's important to take steps to prevent colorectal cancer and get screened before you have symptoms. It’s also necessary to know what those symptoms are to increase your odds of catching it early.”
Though most adults should get their first colonoscopy around age 45 or 50, that isn’t true for everyone. Other factors such as family history, diet, exercise and additional lifestyle factors can affect our colorectal cancer risk.
That said, here’s what you need to know about preventing colorectal cancer and getting screened.
How to Help Prevent Colorectal Cancer
AdventHealth’s CREATION Life philosophy teaches nutrition and exercise are critical parts of our health. That’s true for colon cancer, too. We can take little steps every day to reduce our risk.
Here are some suggestions on how to prevent colorectal cancer:
- Eat a diet low in red meat and processed meats like bacon
- Eat more veggies and fruits
- Exercise regularly
- Take steps to reduce belly fat
- Avoid getting type 2 diabetes
- Don't smoke
Unfortunately, there isn’t good evidence to show that vitamins and minerals make a difference in preventing colorectal cancer.
“Some colorectal cancer has a genetic cause, meaning the person developed a mutation in their DNA or inherited faulty genes from their parents,” advises Dr. deBeche-Adams.
Though, even people who live healthy lifestyles can get colorectal cancer, so you should still be vigilant about your recommended screening protocol. In recent years, some newer screening options have emerged that allow for home testing.
Home Test Options and Their Accuracy
Getting screened at home is more convenient than going to the doctor, but the stakes of missing colorectal cancer are higher compared to the gold standard test, which is the colonoscopy. These tests require people to collect one or more stool samples and mail them to a lab.
Here are some of the more common tests and their accuracy rates:
- Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT): This is a yearly test to detect the presence of blood in a stool. If repeated three times, it is 91 percent sensitive. This means that someone without colorectal cancer would get the correct reading 91 percent of the time.
- Fecal Immunochemical test (FIT): This test also detects blood in the stool, similarly to the FOBT test. It is about 80 percent sensitive.
- FIT-DNA test: This test combines the FIT test with one that looks for mutated DNA in the stool. One common example is called Cologuard. It is about 93 percent sensitive.
“These tests are fairly sensitive, but they are still not as good as a colonoscopy, which can both identify and prevent cancer. Colorectal cancer starts small, as a growth called a polyp, and these can be removed during a colonoscopy,” explains Dr. deBeche-Adams.
When Should Your First Colonoscopy Be?
Traditionally, doctors have said most people should get their first colonoscopy between age 45 and 50. This is called a screening, and it means that even healthy people at that age with no symptoms should get tested.
However, an increasing number of younger adults are being diagnosed with colorectal cancer. So, the American Cancer Society now recommends that adults get their first colonoscopy at age 45. In addition, African Americans have an increased risk of polyps and should get tested five years earlier.
Dr. deBeche-Adams recommends, “Your doctor should recommend a colonoscopy when you approach 45 or 50 if you have an average risk of colorectal cancer, but if they don’t you should bring it up yourself.”
The other exception concerns your relatives. If you have a parent, sibling or child with colorectal cancer, you should get tested at age 40 or at an age 10 years earlier than the relative was when they were diagnosed. For example, if your dad was diagnosed at age 44, you should get tested at age 34.
Though screening is the best way to prevent colorectal cancer or spot it early, being vigilant for its signs is also important.
What Should I Look for?
Make sure to talk to a doctor if you have any of these signs:
- Persistent change in bowel frequency, especially an increase
- Blood in stool
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain
Again, reporting these symptoms early could mean the difference between spotting cancer when effective treatments exist or waiting until your options are more limited.
Taking steps to protect yourself against colorectal cancer, the third-leading cause of cancer-related death, not only protects your body, it helps give you peace of mind. And if you need support along the way, our experts are here to help.
Schedule Your Screening Today
Early detection is key to protecting your life and helping you stay healthy for years to come. Schedule your screening today to help protect your whole health.