March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Among cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. It is one of only a few cancers that can be prevented through screening. Visit the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable Web site to learn more.
What are the risks for colorectal cancer?
About 5-6 percent of the US population will develop colorectal cancer in their lifetime. The incidence of colorectal cancer increases with age and about 90 percent of people who develop colorectal cancer are diagnosed after age 50.
In addition, a person with a first degree relative who has had colorectal cancer also has a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer.
Polyps, or growths on the inner lining of the colon or rectum, may be precancerous, and if not removed in a timely fashion, may also lead to an increased risk of colorectal cancer.
Other risks of colorectal cancer include
- Physical inactivity and obesity, smoking cigarettes, and the heavy use of alcohol.
- Diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis; and
- A diet high in red meats and processed foods has also been associated with increased rates of colorectal cancer.
Certain genetic disorders such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), and hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC or Lynch syndrome) have an increased risk for colorectal cancer. African-Americans have a greater risk for colorectal cancer.
James Vecchio, MD, is Medical Director of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at the University of Vermont Medical Center.