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Lower Your Risk for Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers in both men and women. Our medical director, Dr. Lindsay Carter, explains how regular screenings might just save your life.

Q&A with Dr. Lindsay Carter

In this chat with Dr. Carter, we cover the symptoms of colorectal cancer, who’s at risk, and how to get screened (tested) for it.

First, what is colorectal cancer?
It’s cancer that starts in the colon or rectum. And when we look at cancers that affect both men and women, it’s the second most common.

How would I know if I had it?
Early on, you won’t. It starts as small growths called polyps, which aren’t yet cancer and won’t give you symptoms. Over time though, they can grow into cancer. Then you see problems like weight loss you can’t explain or blood in your stool. But we want to catch it way before that. 

So don’t put off that colonoscopy I’m due for?
Exactly. It could save your life! This cancer is so treatable when we catch it early. I can’t say it enough: get tested regularly.

How often should I get tested?
It depends on your health history, age, and other factors. Ask your doctor what’s right for you.

If cancer runs in my family, am I more likely to get colorectal cancer?

Yes. You may have a higher risk if:

  • One of your parents, siblings, or children had colorectal cancer
  • Several family members had colorectal cancer or other types of cancers

Your personal health history matters too. You may be more at risk if you have:

  • Certain types of polyps 
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Crohn’s disease 
  • A history of radiation treatment to your belly area or pelvis

Tell your doctor about these issues. You may need more screenings or other tests.

Can I do anything to lower my risk?
Yes! You lower your risk when you:

  • Limit eating red or processed meats — have them 1 or 2 times a week at most
  • Limit having drinks with alcohol — have 1 a day at most
  • Quit smoking and any other tobacco use
  • Stay active

Obesity and type 2 diabetes can also slightly raise your risk for colorectal cancer. Talk to your doctor about how to avoid these conditions — or how to best manage them. 

How do I get screened?
The gold standard is a colonoscopy, where your doctor uses a camera to look inside the colon. Your doctor can even remove polyps during one. If your results are normal, you may not need another one for 10 years.

Is a colonoscopy the only option?
No. There are now tests you can do at home. You just provide a stool sample and send it to a lab for testing. Two of the more common types are:

  • FIT testing every year
  • Cologuard test every 3 years

If the tests find any problems, you’d then need a colonoscopy.

So what’s the best option?
Again, that depends. Talk to your doctor about it.

The Takeaway

The earlier you find it, the easier colorectal cancer is to treat. Here’s what to remember:

  1. Colorectal cancer is very common in both men and women.
  2. Your personal health history, your family health history, and your lifestyle can put you at higher risk.
  3. Get regular screenings! It’s easier than ever.

This article is for general reference only. Always talk to your doctor or other health professional for medical advice.