Your Guide to Preventing Colorectal Cancer

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Time to Read: About 3 minutes

This information explains colorectal and its symptoms. It describes the risk factors for developing colorectal cancer, and the eligibility factors for getting colorectal cancer screening. It also gives prevention information, including how to lower your risk for colorectal cancer.

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What is Colorectal Cancer?

The colon and rectum are both part of the large intestine, which is sometimes called the bowel. Cancers of both organs are often grouped together as colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer often grows slowly over several years. It usually starts as a small abnormal growth, called a polyp, on the inner lining of the colon or rectum. Some polyps can become cancer.

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When Should You be Screened?

Talk with your healthcare provider about when you should get screened if:

  • You have any of the signs of colon cancer listed below.
  • You have any of the risk factors you can’t control listed below.

If you are ages 45 or older, talk with your healthcare provider about scheduling a colonoscopy. Everyone ages 45 and over should have one.

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What is a Colonoscopy?

During a colonoscopy, a doctor uses a thin, flexible tube with a light and tiny video camera at the tip of it to search for polyps inside the colon. A tool at the end of the scope can remove polyps if the doctor finds any. A colonoscopy is the only kind of screening method that can both find cancer and prevent it.

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What Should You Expect the Day Before Your Colonoscopy?

You will drink only clear liquids, eat no solid food, and drink medication to make you go to the bathroom. It is very important that your colon is empty for your colonoscopy.

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What Should You Expect the Day of Your Colonoscopy?

You will be asleep (sedated) during the exam and monitored during and after your colonoscopy until you are fully awake.

You must have a family member, friend, or care partner take you home after your procedure.

After your colonoscopy, ask your doctor about how often you should be screened.

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Other Screening Tests

A colonoscopy is the best way to screen for colorectal cancer. There are also other screening tests, such as ones that test your stool (poop). Stool tests can help find cancer. But they are not as good as a colonoscopy at finding growths that can develop into cancer, such as polyps. Depending on the results of your stool test, your healthcare provider may recommend a colonoscopy.

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Did You Know?

  • Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in the United States.
  • About 145,000 new cases are diagnosed in the United States each year. That’s 16 people every hour.
  • Colorectal cancer has a 90% survival rate if caught early.
  • By 2030, cases of colorectal cancer in people under 50 are expected to nearly double.
  • For people ages 50 or older, colorectal cancer cases fell by 30%. That’s because of better rates for screening and polyp removal.
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Risk Factors You Can Control

  • Eat less red, processed, burned, blackened, or charred meats.
  • Talk with your healthcare provider about whether taking aspirin is right for you. Some people who regularly use aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) may have a lower chance of getting colorectal cancer and polyps.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat plenty of fruits and veggies.
  • Limit sugar and fat.
  • Do not use tobacco products.
  • Limit alcohol.
  • Get up and move!
  • Be sun smart.
  • Have regular checkups.
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Risk Factors You Can’t Control

Age

  • Most colorectal cancer happens after age 45.

Having someone related to you by blood who has or had:

  • Lynch syndrome.
  • Familial adenomatous polyposis.
  • Colorectal cancer.
  • Other cancers such as endometrial, ovarian, gastric, urinary tract, brain, and pancreatic.

Having a personal history of:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease for 8 years or longer, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
  • Precancerous polyps.
  • Colorectal cancer in the past.
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Signs of Colorectal Cancer

While there are often no signs in the early stages, there are some you should not ignore:

  • Bleeding from your rectum or blood in your stool (poop).
  • Diarrhea (frequent, loose stool), constipation (not being able to poop), or narrow stool that lasts more than a few days.
  • An urge to use the bathroom that does not go away.
  • Abdominal (belly) pain that you can’t explain that lasts more than a few days.
  • Losing weight without trying.
  • Feeling tired but you don’t know why.
  • Anemia (low number of red blood cells).

Usually these signs don’t mean you have colorectal cancer. You should contact your healthcare provider if any of these problems are severe or last longer than you think they should.

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Contact Us

For more information, visit us at mskcc.org or call 800-525-2225.

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