Understanding the Facts About Colorectal Cancer
March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month
You may be surprised to learn that colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer (excluding skin cancers) diagnosed in both men and women in the United States and is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths.
When it comes to preventing or surviving cancer, including colorectal cancer, knowledge is a powerful tool. Yet many Americans are unaware of the basic facts about this typically silent killer. Memorial Hermann Medical Group gastroenterologists Shaheer Siddiqui, MD, and Nadim Jafri, MD, answer frequently asked questions and dispel commonly held misconceptions about colorectal cancer.
What is Colorectal Cancer?
Colorectal cancer starts in the colon or rectum and, depending on where it begins, can be referred to as colon cancer or rectal cancer. Most colorectal cancers start as a growth, called a polyp, on the inner lining of the colon or rectum. Some but not all polyps turn into cancer.
“While colorectal cancer can be life-threatening if not detected early, it is treatable, especially if caught early,” says Dr. Siddiqui.
What Causes Colorectal Cancer?
A number of risk factors can put you at higher risk of developing colon cancer, says Dr. Siddiqui. “Having an immediate family member who has had colon cancer puts you at greater risk, as does consuming a diet low in fiber and high in fats, red meat, calories and sugar. Individuals who are obese—those with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 to 39.9—and individuals with type 2 diabetes are also at greater risk. And certain segments of the population, including males, African Americans and people ages 60 and older are statistically more likely to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer.”
And while the overall death rate from colorectal cancer has dropped—likely due to increased screening and improved cancer treatments—deaths from colorectal cancer among people younger than 55 are increasing.
What are the Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer?
“The worst part about this type of cancer,” says Dr. Siddiqui, “is that often there are no symptoms, at least with early-stage cancer. Patients often tell me, ‘If I’m feeling fine, why would I think I have cancer?’ And I tell them, you don’t need to feel sick in order to have a malignancy. That’s why cancer kills so many people.”
As the disease slowly progresses, however, symptoms often appear, including bloody stool; frequent gas, abdominal pain or cramping; a sense of incomplete bowel emptying; changing bowel movements or bowel habits; a constant feeling of weakness or exhaustion; and/or unexplained weight loss.
How is Colorectal Cancer Diagnosed?
“A colonoscopy is one of the best ways we have to detect colon cancer,” says Dr. Jafri. “It is an extremely important screening tool, given many people with colon cancer do not show symptoms in the early stages.”
According to Dr. Jafri, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force lowered the starting age for colonoscopies from 50 to 45 for people of average risk for colon cancer, given the increase in colon cancer among younger people. The American Cancer Society also recommends starting screenings at 45 or earlier for those with symptoms or a family history of the disease. (Check with your insurance company to confirm benefits.)
“Many people put off a colonoscopy because they don’t know what to expect,” says Dr. Jafri “If you talk to your doctor, you will understand that it is a very routine screening exam.”
How Can I Prevent Getting Colon Cancer?
While some risk factors may be out of your control, Dr. Jafri says you can reduce your risk of colorectal cancer by adopting a healthy lifestyle. “For optimum health, reduce your intake of red meat and eat more fish and chicken,” says Dr. Jafri. “Replace packaged or fast foods with fresh fruits and vegetables, leafy greens, grains and ‘good’ fats like avocado and olive oil.”
To reduce your risk of colon cancer further, Dr. Jafri also advises you to exercise regularly, don’t smoke and restrict your alcohol intake.
Can Colon Cancer be Treated?
Depending on the stage of the disease and other factors unique to the patient, colorectal cancer treatment might include surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy. “At Memorial Hermann, our multidisciplinary team of specialists provides patients with the most advanced treatment based on their individual needs. We guide them through the process, supporting them every step of the way,” Dr. Siddiqui says.
Take Action Now
Check with your doctor to see if you should be screened for colorectal cancer. If you don’t have a doctor, visit memorialhermann.org to find one. While there, with just a few clicks, you can schedule and confirm your colonoscopy at a Memorial Hermann location that is convenient to you.
*Due to recent changes in screening recommendations, please consult your insurance provider to confirm coverage if you are under age 50.
Meet the GI Specialists at Memorial Hermann Medical Group Multi-Specialty in Sugar Land
Dr. Shaheer Siddiqui, MD
Dr. Siddiqui provides both diagnostic and therapeutic procedures. He treats common digestive problems such as acid reflux, difficulty swallowing, abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and diarrhea, as well as complex conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and colitis), celiac disease, motility disorders, chronic liver problems, cirrhosis and Hepatitis B and C. He also does general endoscopic procedures and routine gastrointestinal care, including preventative screenings for colon cancer.
For Dr. Siddiqui, the most satisfying part of medical practice is taking care of and solving patients’ disease processes. His philosophy of care focuses on educating his patients. He likes to sit down and talk to them, listen to their problems and explain what is going on – a step that he believes makes it easier for them to understand and manage their conditions. He treats his patients like family and strives to earn their trust.
Dr. Nadim Jafri, MD
Dr. Jafri provides highly personalized care for adults with stomach and digestive issues. Among the conditions he treats, his special interests include abdominal pain, reflux, heartburn and hemorrhoids.
Because confidence and trust are essential components of Dr. Jafri’s practice, he makes sure to establish a good rapport and listen attentively to each patient’s concerns. To help provide the best guidance for his patients, he feels it is important to work together so they understand that achieving their wellness goals requires a partnership. He creates an individualized treatment plan based on careful assessment in combination with any necessary diagnostic testing.
For more information or to schedule an appointment: Memorial Hermann Medical Group Multi-Specialty in Sugar Land
17520 West Grand Pkwy South, Suite 350
Sugar Land, TX 77479