It (often) starts with a polyp.
Colorectal cancer may not get as much attention as lung cancer or breast cancer, but it’s actually the third most common type of cancer in both men and women, according to the American Cancer Society. Thankfully, a recent push for colorectal cancer screenings has reduced the prevalence of this disease, so it’s clear that better awareness can yield great results.
So what is colorectal cancer?
It often starts with a polyp. These are small growths that form on the inner lining of organs. They might be a bump, or they might dangle like an icicle off the tissue. Some polyps are benign, but others can devolve into cancer over time.
When a malignant polyp develops in the colon (your large intestine) or your rectum (which links the colon to your anus), this is called colorectal cancer.
Like many types of cancer, colorectal cancer doesn’t always announce its presence during the early stages. When people do have symptoms, it may be things like:
Unexplained weight loss
Sometimes, people inherit gene mutations that lead to colorectal cancer, such as a mutated APC gene—which tends to propel growth of polyps. However, it’s much more common for people to acquire a cancerous gene change. Acquired gene mutations are caused by environmental or lifestyle factors.
Colorectal cancer and lifestyle are bound like velcro. More than for other cancers, researchers have found strong links between colorectal cancer and lifestyle factors such as:
A diet high in red meat and processed meat
A diet low in fruits, vegetables, and high-fiber grains
A diet high in fatty and fried foods
And heavy alcohol use.
If you’re worried about your risk, get screened. Colorectal cancer screening catches malicious polyps early, so they can be snipped out before they turn cancerous.
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Colorectal cancer. Washington, DC: MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. (Accessed on June 4, 2019 at https://medlineplus.gov/colorectalcancer.html.)
Eating, diet, & nutrition for colon polyps. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 2017. (Accessed on June 4, 2019 at https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/colon-polyps/eating-diet-nutrition.)
Overview of the management of primary colon cancer. Waltham, MA: UpToDate, , 2019. (Accessed on June 4, 2019 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/overview-of-the-management-of-primary-colon-cancer.)
What is a gene mutation and how do mutations occur? Genetics Home Reference, U.S. National Library of Medicine. (Accessed on June 4, 2019 at https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/mutationsanddisorders/genemutation.)
What is colorectal cancer? Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, 2018. (Accessed on June 4, 2019 at https://www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer/about/what-is-colorectal-cancer.html.)