The Truth About Colorectal Cancer

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By: Imad Shbeeb, M.D., medical director, Colorectal Surgery Program, MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute, Long Beach Memorial

There’s a lot of information available about breast and other common cancers, but you don’t often hear about colorectal cancer (cancer in the colon or rectum).

The culprit may be its embarrassing nature or perceived negative experience with screenings and preparation. However, with regular screenings colorectal cancer is one of the most treatable cancers.

Here are some of the common misconceptions about colorectal cancer and why it’s important you learn the truth.

Colorectal cancer can be prevented.
True. When adults get screened for colorectal cancer, it can be detected early at a stage when treatment is most likely to be successful, and in some cases, it can be prevented through the detection and removal of precancerous polyps.

Most cases of colorectal cancer begin as small, benign clumps of cells or polyps. Over time, these polyps can become cancerous. Polyps may be small and produce few, if any, symptoms. For this reason, doctors recommend regular screenings to help prevent colorectal cancer by identifying polyps before they turn into cancer.

Colorectal cancer is a disease that mostly affects men.
False. Colorectal cancer affects both men and women. While the risk of developing colorectal cancer is slightly lower for women than men, it is still the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women in the U.S. Colorectal cancer is expected to cause about 50,260 deaths among men and women in 2017. It’s important for everyone discuss their risk with their doctor.

Only people 50 and older need to get screened for colorectal cancer.
False. Regular colorectal cancer screenings for people at average risk should begin at 50. However, there are several factors that put people at increased risk for developing colorectal cancer. For people at high risk, doctors may recommend starting regular screenings at an earlier age or screening more frequently.

While being older than 50 increases the risk, younger people also are affected by colorectal cancer. A study published in the February 2017 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that new cases of colorectal cancer are occurring at an increasing rate among young and middle-aged adults in the U.S. Once age is taken into account, those born in 1990 have double the risk of colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer compared to people born around 1950.

Other factors that increase your risk for colorectal cancer, include:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Smoking
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Eating a diet high in fat and low in fiber
  • Personal history or colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer
  • Family history of colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer
  • Personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
  • Racial and ethnic background
    African Americans have the highest colorectal cancer incidence and mortality rates of all racial groups in the U.S.
  • Certain inherited gene mutations

The MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute at Long Beach Memorial offers a collaborative and caring approach to the diagnosis and treatment of patients with confirmed or suspected colorectal cancer. To learn more, call 800-MEMORIAL or visit MemorialCare.org/Colorectal.



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