When it comes to colon cancer, the old adage “prevention is worth a pound of cure” is factually true. While there is no cure for colon cancer, knowing the risk factors can not only help you make better lifestyle decisions but can also help you see if you are at risk for contracting the disease. Researchers have discovered that family history is one of the most significant risk factors when it comes to colorectal cancer. Read on to learn more about how your family history ties to colorectal cancer, and how you can use this information to your benefit.
Knowing the Risks
Researchers have discovered that having a first-degree relative with a diagnosis of colorectal cancer doubles the risk that you will also contract the disease. A first-degree relative refers to your closest, most immediate family members, such as your parents, your siblings, and your children. This isn’t to say that a second-degree relative with colon cancer poses no risks; if one of your grandparents, aunts, or uncles had a colorectal cancer diagnosis, you should also inform your doctor immediately.
This information about family history can pose a problem for those who have been adopted, or for those who simply don’t know about some of their first-degree relatives. In this scenario, to find out the information, a genealogy research site may be a good idea, or a more economical idea may be to go through old newspapers and publications for clues about relatives and ancestors. You may also find answers from going through old letters or photo albums, or from other relatives who may remember. Those who are adopted are urged to open their adoption records if possible, to find out their family history.
Other Risk Factors
While a family history of colorectal cancer is something to let your doctor know about right away, it’s not the only colon cancer risk factor of which you should be mindful. In fact, recent studies have shown lifestyle choices that relate to colon cancer (such as what we eat or drink).
A diet rich in red or processed meat is to be avoided, especially in the case of women over 40. It is suggested that women lower their red/processed meat consumption to, at most, just a few times a month. Heavy alcohol use and smoking are also correlated with cases of colorectal cancer. These are all lifestyle habits that are easily changeable, making the prevention of colon cancer, in part, something that is within your control.
Those who are overweight or obese should try to lose pounds by beginning a regimen of physical activity and healthy diet choices. Physical inactivity and obesity both have links to colon cancer.
Other risk factors to know about include type 2 diabetes, age, and ethnicity (Ashkenazi Jews and African-Americans both have higher rates of colorectal cancer). While these are all things you cannot change, you should still let your doctor know if any of these risk factors apply to you.
What Can a Doctor Do?
You may wonder what a physician can do with your family history and other information. Your doctor can send you for genetic testing if they have concerns about your colorectal cancer risk. This test will look for inherited syndromes as well as other genes that are scientifically linked to the disease. If any of these genetic tests come back “positive,” this is a red flag that you should be checked more often than most for colorectal cancer, polyps, and other colonic-related conditions. Perhaps your doctor will recommend you have a colonoscopy before the age of 45 based on your genetic testing.
Colon cancer caught before it progresses has a much better chance of eradication, so this is why the family history, genetic testing, and colorectal cancer testing is so important. Many cases of colon cancer go unnoticed until they are in the later stages, and many times, unfortunately, it is too late to heal the patient. To learn more about colon cancer risks, colon cancer tests, genetic testing, or how to collect your family history, book an appointment at Carolina Digestive Health Associates today. With eight office locations and five endoscopy centers, we make colorectal cancer testing as quick and efficient as possible.