Colorectal health refers to the colon and rectum. Colorectal cancer is often called a “silent” disease because symptoms don’t always develop until it is difficult to cure.
The good news is that colorectal cancer is preventable and most curable when detected early through regular screening tests.
Screening tests help your doctor find polyps before you have symptoms. Polyps are growths that may turn into cancer. Finding and removing polyps may prevent colorectal cancer. Also, treatment for colorectal cancer is more likely to be effective when the disease is found early.
To find polyps or early colorectal cancer:
- People in their 50s and older should be screened.
- People who are at higher-than-average risk of colorectal cancer should talk with their doctor about whether to have screening tests before age 50, what tests to have, the benefits and risks of each test and how often to schedule appointments.
Steps you can take:
- Adopt a diet low in fat and high in vegetables and fruit. Diets high in vegetables and fruits have been linked with lower risk of colon cancer. Diets high in processed and/or red meats have been linked with a higher risk.
- Consider taking calcium pills. Higher intakes of calcium have been linked to reduced risks of colorectal cancer. Talk to your doctor or nurse about whether this is a good idea for you.
- Try to stay at a healthy weight. Ask your doctor about a healthy weight range for you.
- Limit alcohol. For women, drink no more than one alcoholic drink per day.
- If you smoke, quit. Ask your doctor or nurse for help.
- Get regular physical activity.
- When you turn 50, start getting regular colorectal screening exams. These include yearly rectal exams and stool blood tests, as well as sigmoidoscopy every 5 years and colonoscopy every 10 years. If your family members developed cancer at a young age, talk with your doctor or nurse about testing before age 50.
- Consider genetic counseling and testing. People with a strong family history of colorectal polyps or cancer should consider genetic counseling to determine whether genetic testing may be right for them. If needed, this kind of testing can help you decide about getting tested and treated at an early age.
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