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BellaOnline's Gynecology Editor

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Who Gets Colorectal Cancer?


Colorectal cancer is the 3rd most common cancer in women and ranks #3 in causes of cancer death in women in the U.S. It is a common cause of cancer death in all sexes around the world. The death rates have decreased over the past 20 years but there is still an opportunity to decrease the death rates further.

The incidence and death rates of this cancer is variable throughout the world. This is influenced by many factors such as life expectancy, diet, nutritional status, and screening. In the U.S. incidence has dropped each year over the past 2 decades due to improved screening and early diagnosis but the death rate is still quite high. Once diagnosed the chance of dying from this malignancy is about 33%. This high death rate is primarily because many people do not undergo routine screening. More than 50% of those diagnosed have not undergone any of the recommended screening tests. This means that the cancer is advanced at the time of diagnosis.

The lifetime incidence of colorectal cancer is 5% and more than 90% of these cancers occur after the age of 50. It is unusual for a person to have this cancer before the age of 40. After the age of 40 the risk of developing it is about 3.7/1000 persons per year. Another risk factor for colorectal cancer is low socioeconomic status. The risk of developing this malignancy is increased by 30%. This is likely due to poor diet, lack of exercise, obesity, smoking and a lack of screening. Other notable risk factors are a genetic predisposition, family history and race. In the U.S., African Americans are at higher risk of developing this cancer.

The majority of cases occur sporadically rather than in individuals with an inherited susceptibility. There are known hereditary colorectal cancer syndromes. Familial adenomatous polyposis and hereditary non-polyposis syndromes are the most commonly recognized and account for about 5% of the colorectal cancer cases. These syndromes also increase the risk to the individual of developing other cancers such as endometrial, ovarian, stomach and others. In the absence of a genetic mutation, a family history of this cancer in a first degree relative will increase the risk by 2-fold. Other risk factors include prior abdominal radiation and a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis), which increases the risk by 5-15%.

There are known protective factors. People who exercises on a regular bases, use aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication and has particular diet are less likely to develop colorectal cancer. Diets high in fruits, vegetables, fiber and calcium yet low in red meat, animal fat and cholesterol appears to be protective against colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer is a common cancer in both men and women. Early diagnosis and prevention is the reason that the death rates have decreased over the last 20 years. Everyone should be aware of their risk and take the appropriate steps to minimize their chance of succumbing to this devastating disease.

I hope this article has provided you with information that will help you make wise choices, so you may:

Live healthy, live well and live long!


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Understanding Colorectal Cancer
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Content copyright © 2014 by Dr. Denise Howard. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Dr. Denise Howard. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Dr. Denise Howard for details.

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