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From the Director's Desk: Don't Assume You're Alone

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, and the third most common cancer in men and women.

Colorectal cancer begins when growths, or a small clump of cells, (commonly referred to as polyps), form on the inner lining of the colon or rectum. Some types of growths can change into cancer over time, but not all do. The chance of a growth changing into cancer depends on its type.

The two most common types of growths are classified as adenomatous and hyperplastic. Adenomatous growths are considered pre-cancerous, but hyperplastic growths are not. A growth is more likely to contain cancer or increase someone’s risk of developing colorectal cancer if it is larger than one centimeter, two growths are found, or dysplasia is seen in the growth after it’s removed.

Fifty percent of people age 60 and older have one or more adenomatous growths; however, only six percent of these people develop colon cancer. The risk of having growths increases with age and in patients with a family history of colorectal growths or cancer. Tobacco and alcohol use, obesity and lack of exercise, inflammatory intestinal conditions, and race, especially African-Americans, who are at higher risk of developing colon cancer, also increases a person’s risk of growths.

Colon growths often cause no symptoms, but some people do experience rectal bleeding, change in stool color, change in bowel habits, pain and iron deficiency anemia. There is no known way to prevent the growths, but certain lifestyle habits can help reduce risk. Healthy lifestyle changes include adopting healthy habits such as eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, reducing fat intake, limiting alcohol consumption, quitting tobacco, staying physically active and maintaining a healthy body weight.

If you’re at high risk for colorectal cancer, you’ll need regular colonoscopies starting in young adulthood. If you’re age 50 or older, you should plan on getting regular screenings now.

To learn more about colorectal cancer, click here.

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