Northwestern Medicine

Are You at Risk for Colorectal Cancer?

Northwestern Memorial Hospital March 03, 2014

Northwestern Medicine experts provide tips to help avoid colorectal cancer and stay healthy

CHICAGO, IL – Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in both women and men in America and is the country’s third most common cause of cancer, affecting more than 130,000 people each year. While the disease mainly impacts people older than age 50, men and women of all ages can be diagnosed with colorectal cancer. With screening and early detection, colorectal cancer is highly treatable, yet it remains prevalent due to a lack of awareness. In recognition of Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in March, Northwestern Medicine wants to spread the word about how individuals can prevent colorectal cancer and save lives.

“I think there is a common and dangerous misconception that colorectal cancer is really only a problem for men” said Steven J. Stryker, MD, a Northwestern Medicine surgical oncologist who specializes in the treatment of colorectal cancer. “But, the fact is that nearly the same amount of women as men develop colorectal cancer, and nearly the same amount are killed each year. However, by taking advantage of some lifestyle and dietary changes in combination with appropriate colonoscopy screening and early detection, colorectal cancer is preventable.”

Research has shown the following lifestyle choices may help prevent this dangerous cancer:
  • Regular exercise
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Smoking cessation
  • Reducing alcohol consumption
Research also suggests that dietary choices may also reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer:
  • Increasing dietary fiber
  • Limiting saturated fats
  • Reducing red meat
  • Increasing calcium and vitamin D intake
  • Eating more foods with polyphenols, which are often found in fruits, vegetables and nuts
There is also increasing evidence that anti-inflammatory medications, such as Aspirin, can have a preventative impact against colorectal cancer and precancerous polyps. However, experts advise that patients should consult with a physician before using anti-inflammatory medication for preventative purposes.

While taking steps to prevent colorectal cancer by making lifestyle and dietary changes can make a big difference, the most effective method of prevention is to receive appropriate colonoscopy screening.

“Colonoscopies are currently the most critical component in the fight again colorectal cancer for both women and men,” said Mary F. Mulcahy, MD, a Northwestern Medicine oncologist and member of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University*. “Regular screening exams allow doctors to identify and remove cancerous and precancerous polyps at early, treatable stages before they become a serious threat to someone’s life.”

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends* regular screening for colorectal cancer beginning at age 50, however, screening may be recommended to begin earlier for patients with a family history of colorectal cancer or other risk factors.

Anyone who is interested in learning more about colorectal cancer can attend “Conversations About Colorectal Cancer*,” a free educational event featuring Northwestern Medicine oncology experts hosted by the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center. The event will take place on Saturday, March 8, from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Building’s Baldwin Auditorium located at 303 E. Superior St., Chicago, IL 60611. To view an agenda and register for free to attend “Conversations About Colorectal Cancer,” visit the event’s webpage online*.

Speak with an expert at Northwestern Medicine about colorectal cancer or to schedule an appointment, call 877.926.4664.

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