The risk of developing colorectal cancer is not the same for everyone. Knowing your risk is important because it affects the age you should begin screening, the type of screening, and how often you need to be screened.
You may be at risk for inherited colorectal cancer if any of the following is true:
- You or a close relative had Colorectal or Endometrial (lining of the uterus) cancer before age 50.
- You had colorectal cancer more than once or you had colorectal cancer AND another cancer.
- You and/or several closely related family members had Colorectal Polyps, Colorectal Cancer, or Endometrial Cancer.
- You or a close relative had colorectal polyps before age 40.
People with hereditary colorectal cancer may have a high lifetime risk for colorectal and other cancers.
Whether or not you’ve had colorectal cancer before, if you are at risk for inherited colorectal cancer you may benefit from a genetic evaluation – called genetic testing – by a genetic counselor, doctor, or healthcare professional with special training in hereditary cancer risk assessment.
Knowing that you have an inherited condition that increases your risk for colorectal and other cancers can help you get the right screening so you can find any signs of cancer early, when the disease is still curable. Genetic testing can also be helpful to family members who may want to get tested themselves so they can get on an appropriate screening program.
Other risk factors for colorectal cancer include:
- A family history of cancer of the colon, rectum, ovary, endometrium (lining of the uterus) or breast. This could be related to a hereditary condition such as Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP) or Hereditary Nonpolyposis Colon Cancer (HNPCC, also called Lynch Syndrome).
- A personal history of cancer of the colon, rectum, ovary, endometrium (lining of the uterus) or breast.
- A history of polyps in the colon.
- A history of ulcerative colitis (ulcers in the lining of the large intestine) or Crohn’s Disease.
There are some lifestyle factors that might increase a person’s risk for colorectal cancer. Modifying these factors can help lower the risk not just of colorectal cancer but also of many other diseases. These modifiable risk factors include:
- Little or no physical activity
- Heavy alcohol consumption
- A diet high in red or processed meat
Even if you’ve already been diagnosed with colorectal cancer, losing weight (if you are overweight), getting more exercise and maintaining a healthy diet can contribute to a better quality of life and may lower your risk of recurrence (the cancer coming back).
Signs and Symptoms
It is important to know that many people with Colorectal Cancer may have no symptoms at all. That is why screening is so important, even if you feel completely well.
Symptoms generally occur when colorectal cancer is more advanced. If you’ve already been diagnosed with colorectal cancer, you can do a great service to others by urging them to follow colorectal screening guidelines.
Possible signs of colorectal cancer include:
- Blood (either bright red or very dark) in the stool
- Change in bowel habits
- Constant tiredness or anemia
- Diarrhea, constipation, or feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
- General abdominal discomfort (frequent gas pains, bloating, fullness, or cramps)
- Stools that are narrower than usual
- Weight loss with no known reason
Generally, if you have symptoms of colorectal cancer, you should have a physical examination, blood tests and colonoscopy. Tell your doctor right away if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.