Colorectal Cancer 101

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and we are using this opportunity to tell you all about this disease that will be diagnosed in more than 150,000 Americans this year alone.

What is colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer is a type of cancer that starts in either the color or the rectum, but they are often grouped together because they have many things in common. Colorectal cancer starts with something called polyps, which are just abnormal growths, in your colon or rectum. A polyp can grow into the wall of your colon or rectum over time, and once they are in the wall, they can spread to blood vessels or lymph vessels nearby.

Who’s at risk for colorectal cancer?

There are many things that can increase your risk of colorectal cancer, and some of these are things you can’t change. These include:

  • A family history of colorectal cancer
  • A personal history of polyps or colorectal cancer
  • A personal history of inflammatory bowel disease like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
  • Being African American or an Ashkenazi Jew
  • Having type 2 diabetes

Still, there are many risk factors you do have the ability to change. These include:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Not being physically active
  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol heavily

There are other factors that may have an increased risk of colorectal cancer, but the connection is unclear. These include:

  • Night shift work
  • Previous treatment for certain cancers

What can I do to prevent colorectal cancer?

When thinking about reducing your colorectal cancer risk, talk to your doctor about all your risk factors and focus on the risk factors you are able to change. This might include:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Losing weight (if you’re overweight or obese)
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Reduce your intake of red meat (beef, lamb, pork, and liver)
  • Reduce your intake of processed meats like hotdogs and some luncheon meats
  • Quit smoking
  • Limit or cut out alcohol