Each year, thousands of people are diagnosed with colorectal cancer – a disease that is projected to take the lives of more than 50,000 this year alone.
Colorectal cancer is a serious disease. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, it’s the third most common type of cancer in the United States – but it’s also one that can be prevented.
“Most colorectal cancer comes from polyps that develop in the colon,” says Craig Reickert, M.D., a colorectal surgeon at Henry Ford Health. “By having regular colonoscopies, we can see these polyps, remove them and evaluate if they are pre-cancerous or not.”
Colorectal cancer is most common in people over age 50 – because as you age, polyps begin to grow more frequently.
Before you get concerned about polyps, realize this: They are common. In fact, one in about four people develops polyps, Dr. Reickert says, and most of the time they aren’t cancerous.
“For the most part, you don’t know if you have polyps unless you check for them,” he says. “But it’s important to check – so that we can remove them, and, if you do have a pre-cancerous polyp, we can alter how often you come in for a colonoscopy so that we can monitor any new polyps more frequently.”
While there are other methods for checking for polyps, having a regular colonoscopy – starting around age 50 and every 10 years or so thereafter, depending on the condition of your polyps and your family history, is a one-stop-shop for seeing polyps and removing them — something that can’t be done with other tests.
What are other ways to prevent colorectal cancer?
Aside from getting your regular colonoscopy, there are other subtle changes you can make. Not smoking, staying active and maintaining a healthy weight are beneficial for avoiding colorectal cancer and for your health in general.
Another way to help prevent colorectal cancer is by eating a diet that is high in fiber, fruits and vegetables, and low in red meat.
“Following diet and lifestyle recommendations is excellent for overall health, and for the prevention of colorectal cancer, but it’s important to note that even those who follow vegan or vegetarian diets still get colon cancer,” Dr. Reickert says. “Anyone, no matter how healthy or otherwise, can get colorectal cancer. The worst thing you can do is not get checked.”
Most people never notice odd symptoms that could indicate colorectal cancer, but there are some changes in body behavior and stool appearance that, if they persist, should be examined by your doctor.
“A common symptom people notice is changes in bowel habits – where you were once fairly regular you suddenly have persistent constipation or diarrhea,” Dr. Reickert says.
Other symptoms include narrow, pencil or ribbon-like stool, blood in stool or after a bowel movement, or discolored stool. In addition, becoming anemic, stomach cramps and unanticipated weight loss could all indicate something isn’t quite right.
Ultimately, if you do have colon cancer, there are numerous treatments and methods to preserve colon function.
“The death rate from colorectal cancer has been steadily dropping over the years thanks to better treatment and detection methods,” Dr. Reickert says. “I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to get your scheduled colonoscopy – even if we do find cancer, you aren’t doomed. The earlier we find it, the more success we’ll have.”
To make an appointment for your colonoscopy or to talk with your doctor about your risk, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).
Dr. Craig Reickert is the Division Head of Colon and Rectal Surgery at Henry Ford Hospital. He also sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center – Pierson in Grosse Pointe Farms.