Colon cancer is now considered one of the deadliest cancers, and it affects people of all ages, genders, and ethnicity. Its mortality rate is so high because it is exceptionally tough to treat. By the time most patients begin to show symptoms, the cancer has already progressed to a later stage (such as stage IV or V), and it is very often fatal beyond this point. Because symptoms are tough to pinpoint, prevention and awareness are two aspects that can help prevent colon cancer. It is more important than ever to know your family history and relay it to your doctor so he or she can use the information to provide you with proper treatment. Read on to learn about the connection between your family tree and colorectal cancer, and what steps you can take if someone close to you has had the diagnosis.
The Family Connection
It is estimated that 1 in 20 people will be diagnosed with colon cancer in their lifetime, and this fact makes screening so vitally important. The American Cancer Society colorectal screening cancer guidelines were changed earlier this year, advising that those 45 and over get yearly colorectal cancer screenings. (The guidelines previously advised age 50.) However, younger and younger people are diagnosed with colorectal cancer each year. Insurance may not always cover an early screening unless there is a specific reason for it, so this is where your family history comes in.
Recently, researchers have discovered that patients who have had a first-degree relative with a colon cancer diagnosis are 50% more likely also to be diagnosed with the disease when compared to the general population. This means if your parents, siblings, or children have had a colorectal cancer diagnosis, you should immediately inform your doctor. Second-degree relatives also carry some risk, so be sure to let your physician know if a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or cousin has had cancer.
If you do not yet know much about your family medical history, there’s no better time than the present to ask. Upcoming holiday gatherings are a chance to have the majority of the immediate and extended family together, and a good time to ask certain questions. Those who are adopted or do not have living family members to ask are advised to search adoption records or research family history, if possible. The link is that important.
What a Doctor Can Do
If you present a family history of colorectal cancer to your physician, he or she can order genetic testing and/or colorectal cancer screenings. There are several different types of genetic tests patients can take to gauge their likelihood of colon cancer. The test results are not a guarantee that you’ll contract cancer, but you can use the information to get regular checkups and screenings to try to prevent colon cancer from occurring.
There are several tests to check for colorectal cancer itself, such as a fecal occult blood test or a colonoscopy. Depending on your physician and your personal needs, other tests may be ordered.
Other Risk Factors
Of course, family history is not the only associated risk factor when it comes to colorectal cancer. Researchers have also found a link between ethnicity and colon cancer. African-Americans and Ashkenazi Jews are much more likely to have the diagnosis. A family history of inflammatory bowel disease may also contribute.
Family history and the above risk factors are things that a patient cannot change, but other associated colon cancer risks are behavioral, and it’s well within any patient’s power to change them. Researchers have found links between the following and a colon cancer diagnosis:
- High consumption of red/processed meat
- Lack of physical activity
- Heavy/alcoholic drinking
Red meat is especially strongly correlated with colon cancer diagnosis, especially in women. Doctors advise patients to stop smoking, eat a healthy diet, and get regular exercise, in addition to drinking alcohol and eating red meat in moderation. If you need more information about colon cancer risks, are interested in genetic tests, or need a colorectal cancer screening, make an appointment with GI Associates today. Three separate locations as well as pediatric services are available for your convenience.