According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in the United States. The lifetime risk of developing this type of cancer is about 1 in every 24 women.
What are the warning signs?
There are several diseases — such as infection, hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease — that have similar symptoms to those of colorectal cancer. In many cases, these symptoms aren’t cancer-related, but it’s important to see a doctor who can diagnose the cause and recommend treatment.
Symptoms of colorectal cancer can include:
- A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool, that lasts for more than a few days
- A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by doing so
- Rectal bleeding
- Dark stools or blood in the stool
- Cramping or abdominal pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Unintended weight loss
Even if you have none of these warning signs, it’s important to get screened for colorectal cancer as appropriate for your age and health history.
Screening could save your life
When colorectal cancer is found early, before it has spread, the five-year relative survival rate is 90%. This means 9 out of 10 people with early-stage cancer survive at least five years. But if the cancer has had a chance to spread to other parts of the body, survival rates are lower.
For women with average risk, the American Cancer Society recommends regular screenings beginning at age 45. For those with a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer (such as a family history of the disease), more frequent screenings and testing may be recommended.
Your primary care physician can help you determine your level of risk and when/how often to undergo screening.
Eat right and fight
Diet and good nutrition are important tools in helping to prevent colorectal cancer. By staying active and including these vitamins and minerals in your diet, you can minimize your risk of getting this deadly disease. Here are some tips from the Prevent Cancer Foundation for a cancer-preventative diet:
Antioxidantsbolster the body’s defenses against potentially dangerous substances that can damage the body’s cells and lead to cancer. Apples, red grapes, berries, sweet potatoes and fish all include antioxidants. Green tea is also a great source of this mineral.
Folic acid is essential in forming new cells and tissues as well as keeping red blood cells healthy. Great sources of folic acid are citrus fruits and dark leafy vegetables, especially spinach.
Some studies have suggested calcium is a powerful mineral in the fight against colorectal cancer. Good sources of calcium include milk, cheese, yogurt and collard greens.
Research has found that individuals with high levels of Vitamin D can reduce their colorectal cancer mortality risk by up to 72%. Eat salmon, eggs, mushrooms and tuna to maintain high levels of this powerful vitamin.
Fiber helps prevent cancer by moving wastes through the digestive tract faster, which minimizes the amount of time potentially harmful wastes have in contact with intestinal cells. Some fiber can also help detoxify substances that could possibly lead to cancer. Eat whole-grains, prunes, berries, kidney beans, fresh fruits and vegetables to keep your digestive system healthy.
Load up your diet with these foods to help prevent colorectal cancer. Be sure to limit your intake of high-fat foods, which can be a major cause of tumors developing in the colon. Stay active, limit your alcohol consumption and don’t use tobacco to help minimize your risk of colorectal cancer. For more information on how your diet can help prevent cancer, visit preventcancer.org.
Learn more about colorectal cancer, including causes, detection, diagnosis and treatment here.