While colorectal cancer usually affects people age 50 and older, research shows that a younger population may be experiencing higher rates of the disease. Among various types of cancer, colorectal is the third most common in both men and women in the United States, and it’s the second leading cause of cancer-related death.

“Based on population size, West Virginia has one of the highest rates of newly diagnosed cases of colorectal cancer and death rates of any state in the nation,” Jon Cardinal, MD, a WVU Cancer Institute surgical oncologist, said. “Any patient, regardless of age, with symptoms specific to the colon or rectum should undergo a diagnostic colonoscopy.”

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month – a good time to learn about the symptoms and risk factors, and importance of screening and early detection.

Changes in bowel movements could be a sign of colorectal cancer.
Colorectal cancer is found in the lower part of your digestive tract, affecting either your colon or rectum. Colorectal cancer symptoms may be mistaken for signs of less serious conditions, like irritable bowel syndrome. Sometimes, colorectal cancers bleed into the digestive tract, and blood may enter the stool or feces. Testing for blood in the stool is one way to screen for colorectal cancer. Take it seriously and see a doctor if you notice any changes in your bowel movements (blood or very dark stool), experience sudden changes in weight, or have abdominal pain.

Know your family’s health history.
If you have a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) with a history of colorectal cancer, you are at greater risk for developing the disease. Your risk is also higher if your relative was diagnosed with cancer when they were younger than 45 or if you have more than one first-degree relative who is affected.

“Adults with a first-degree relative with a history of colorectal cancer should be screened 10 years prior to the age of their youngest relative at the time of his or her diagnosis,” Dr. Cardinal said. “Like all cancers, early detection is key in terms of improving the effectiveness of treatment.”

A colonoscopy is effective for detecting colorectal cancer.
While it may not be something that any of us wants to go through, it’s better to have a colonoscopy than develop a life-threatening illness. You may want to have screening tests earlier than the recommended age of 50 if you have a family history of colon cancer of if you are experiencing any symptoms.

Changes that occur in the cells lining the inside of the colon or rectum can lead to growths called polyps, or fleshy clumps of tissue. Over time, some polyps can become cancer. Removing polyps early may stop cancer from ever forming.

Your diet, weight, and amount of daily exercise may strongly impact your risk.
While obesity and inactive lifestyles can impact a number of health conditions, research shows that the connections between diet, weight, and exercise and colorectal cancer risk are some of the strongest for any type of cancer. Take our colorectal cancer risk assessment to learn more.

“This year, approximately 140,000 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and 56,000 people will die from this disease. Yet, it is a highly preventable and treatable disease if caught early,” Samir Agarwal, MD, a WVU Medicine colon and rectal surgeon, said.

Try adding these steps to your routine to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer:

• Get active for at least 150 minutes a week. Walk or run on your lunch break. Or hit the gym or exercises classes after work.
• Limit red meat in your diet and make sure the majority of your meals are packed with plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and whole grains.
• Limit alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks for men and one for women per day.
• Manage your stress with yoga, meditation, or writing in a journal.

If you are experiencing the following symptoms at any age, ask your healthcare provider about getting a colon cancer screening:

• Blood in your stool
• Diarrhea, constipation, or other sudden stool changes
• Feeling that your rectum or bowel doesn't empty completely
• Regular episodes of belly pain, cramps, bloating, or gas
• Unexplained weight loss
• Nausea and vomiting
• A feeling of weakness or tiredness

Make an appointment: 855-WVU-CARE