Colorectal Cancer - What You Need To Know

Colorectal Cancer - What You Need To Know

Colon cancer, which is also known as colorectal cancer, is cancer cell growth in the colon or rectum. The colon is part of the large intestine or large bowel. The rectum is the connecting tube between the colon and the anus.

Thankfully colorectal cancer is very treatable, even though it may spread into nearby lymph nodes. Surgical treatment followed by chemotherapy is quite effective. Research is continually being done, allowing scientists to learn more and more, which provides hope for individuals no matter what stage they are in.

With most colon cancers, polyps are the first stage. Polyps are abnormal growths located inside the colon, which can later become cancerous if they are not removed.

Men and women of all racial and ethnic groups are affected by colon cancer. Those who are over 50 years old are most at risk, but there is a rise in colon cancer for people younger than 50 in recent years. More than 48,000 people die each year from this disease. We want you to be educated so you and your family can combat these statistics and help others learn about how to prevent this disease. Colorectal cancer is the 3rd most common cancer in the USA, and the 2nd leading cause of cancer death. It is estimated that this year, 136,840 people will be diagnosed and 50,315 will die from cancer in the colon or rectum.

The average risk over a lifetime in developing this disease is about 1 in 20. This varies widely depending on individual risk factors. The difference in the location of colorectal cancer is 72% in the colon and 28% in the rectum.

In avoiding colorectal cancer, it is important to pay attention to which risk factors may be a problem for you. It is known that this cancer is not contagious. The known risk factors associated with colorectal cancer include family and hereditary factors, environmental exposure, and lifestyle risk factors like physical inactivity, obesity, smoking, and alcohol consumption.

Personal History of Inflammatory Bowel Disease

There are two diseases that can put you at risk for colorectal cancer. They are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Together they are known as Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Ulcerative colitis causes inflammation of the mucosa of the colon and rectum. Crohn’s disease causes inflammation of the full thickness of the bowel wall and may involve any part of the digestive tract from the mouth to the anus. If you have either of these diseases, we highly encourage you to be screened on a more frequent basis for colorectal cancer.

Family History of Colorectal Cancer or Adenomatous Polyps

Your family history of colorectal cancer is a contributing risk factor. About 20% of people who develop colorectal cancer have other family members who have been touched by this disease. The reason for this correlation is likely due to inherited genes, shared environmental factors, food, and habits.

Nutritional Practices

A person’s diet strongly influences their risk for colorectal cancer by up to 70%. Those with a diets high in fat, particularly animal fat, have a major risk factor for colorectal cancer. The typical Western diet develops bacterial flora which can degrade bile salts to potentially carcinogenic compounds. Diets high in meat have been shown to increase the development of this disease. One of the reasons for this is heme iron, which is found in red meats. Another cause is the consumption of heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons which are produced by meats being cooked at high temperatures. These compounds are believed to be carcinogenic. Some studies suggest that those who eat very few fruits and vegetables have a higher risk of colorectal cancer. Yet another diet related factor is the intake of fiber. High fiber intake has been shown to decrease the risk of cancer. Dietary fiber dilutes fecal content, increases fecal bulk, and reduces transit time which are all beneficial to health.

Physical Activity and Obesity

Obesity and physical inactivity have been connected to higher risk of colorectal cancer. There are studies that show the importance of daily physical activity because it can decrease cancer risk by as much as 50%. There is abundant evidence that higher levels of physical activity are connected to a lower risk of colorectal cancer. It has also been shown that the higher the intensity of activity, the less your risk of colorectal cancer. Physical activity has the most affect on colon cancer as opposed to rectal cancer. In addition, physical activity increases gut motility which is the stretching and contractions of the muscles in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

The increased risk connected with being overweight or obese does not appear to result from increased energy intake. It is more likely to reflect the differences in metabolic efficiency. Studies have shown that those who use energy more efficiently have less risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Cigarette Smoking

Most people know the connection between tobacco/cigarette smoking and lung cancer, but smoking also is very harmful to your colon and rectum. Studies show that 12 percent of colorectal cancer deaths can be attributed to smoking tobacco. It is the carcinogens found in tobacco that cause the increase risk as these are passed through the colon and out through the rectum. Smoking can increase the formation and growth rate of adenomatous polyps which lead to cancer. Studies show that younger onset of colorectal cancer is contributed to by smoking.

Heavy Alcohol Consumption

Regular drinking of alcohol may be connected with increased risk of getting colorectal cancer, especially at a younger age. Alcohol has reactive metabolites such as acetaldehyde which can be carcinogenic. Another thing to consider is the interaction of alcohol with smoking. Tobacco may induce specific mutations in DNA that are less efficiently repaired in the presence of alcohol. It can also work as a solvent which enhances penetration of tobacco carcinogenic molecules into the mucosal cells. Colorectal cancer can also be produced with the production of prostaglandins, lipid peroxidation, and the generation of free radical oxygen species caused by alcohol drinking. The last connection is that those who consume high amounts of alcohol generally have low intake of essential nutrients which make tissues susceptible to carcinogenesis.

It is important to talk to your family and friends about their increased risks and suggest screening for the disease. The most important ways to prevent colorectal cancer are correct dietary changes, regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding harmful substances. Combined with screening programs and early therapeutic intervention, these could substantially reduce the morbidity and mortality associated with colorectal cancer.

Written by Daniel Baldwin


“What is Colon Cancer” Colon Cancer Alliance,

Boushey, Robin P. M.D., Ph.D. “Colorectal Cancer Epidemiology: Incidence, Mortality, Survival, and Risk Factors” National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine

Summary: What is colorectal cancer and what are the risk factors.

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