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Colorectal cancer was not common in Nigeria, but it may interest you to know that currently, one of the top five cancers in Nigeria is colon cancer. Colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon and rectum) continues to affect millions of men and women worldwide, and understanding the disease and what we can do to prevent it is the first step towards a cure. We consider it worthwhile to let our readers know about the facts about this silent, but deadly disease.

1. Age is the #1 risk factor for colorectal cancer.

90% of colorectal cancer cases appear in men and women 50 years old or older, and the risk for developing this cancer increases with age.

Yet, like most disease trends, this isn’t absolute – younger people can get colorectal cancer too.

2. There are warning signs, but not EARLY warning signs.

Like lung cancer and cervical cancer, colorectal cancer can be hard to detect in its earliest stage.

Symptoms can include a change in bowel habits; blood in the stool; diarrhea, constipation or feeling that the bowel does not empty all the way; frequent gas pains, bloating, fullness or cramps; weight loss for no known reason; nausea, tiredness and vomiting. If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your doctor right away.

3. Lifestyle choices impact colorectal cancer risk.

Many lifestyle-related factors are directly linked to colorectal cancer risk.

  1. Obesity not only increases your risk of having colorectal cancer by 30%, but it also increases the likelihood of poor treatment outcomes and complications.
  2. Smoking also increases your risk of developing and dying from this type of cancer. One recent study reported that patients with colon cancer who smoke were 14% more likely to die from their colon cancer within five years than patients who had never smoked.
  3. Other risk factors include heavy alcohol use, lack of exercise and diets high in red and processed meats. Additionally, cooking meats at a very high temperature can create chemicals on your food that may increase your cancer risk.

4. Family history matters.

People with a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, offspring) who has colorectal cancer have two to three times risk of developing this disease.

5. Health conditions can increase your risk.

Your risk of colorectal cancer increases if you have the following conditions: Type 2 diabetes; inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including either ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease; and having an inherited syndrome like Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or Lynch Syndrome.

6. Regular colorectal cancer screenings typically begin at age 50

Because polyps tend to be seen most often in people 50 years of age and older, experts recommend universal screening for colorectal cancer beginning at this age. If you are under 50 and have a family history of colorectal cancer or other risk factors, talk to your doctor about when you should start regular screening.

7. With regular screenings, colorectal cancer is preventable.

Colorectal cancer screening saves lives. In many cases, a screening can prevent colorectal cancer by finding and removing polyps before they turn into cancer. Screening also helps find colorectal cancer at an early stage, when treatment is most effective.

Credit: National Foundation for Cancer Research

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