Carolinas HealthCare System

Colorectal Cancer FAQs

Colorectal cancer is the No. 3 cause of cancer death among men and women in the United States. Each year, more than 140,000 people are diagnosed with colorectal cancer in the U.S. and more than 50,000 people die from it. Colorectal cancer is considered a silent killer because often there are no symptoms until it is too late to treat. Prevention is key. 

Is colorectal cancer preventable?

The good news is that 80-90 percent of colorectal cancers can be prevented by regular screening by a skilled examiner.  The majority of colorectal cancers arise from precancerous growths in the colon called polyps, which can be found during a screening exam and removed before they turn into cancer. Colorectal cancer screening should be a part of routine healthcare for people 50 years of age and over.


What is the most important risk factor? 

Age is the single most important risk factor for the disease. Even people who lead a healthy lifestyle can still develop polyps and cancer. Both men and women are affected by colorectal cancer equally. Once you are over 50, your lifetime chance of developing colon cancer is 1-in-20.


In individuals with a family history of colon cancer and some other conditions, screening should begin at age 40. Research has shown that African-Americans should begin screening at age 45.


What is the preferred prevention test?

Colonoscopy is considered the preferred colorectal cancer screening test because it is the only test that both finds and removes precancerous polyps during the same sedated exam. Recent studies show convincing evidence that colonoscopy drastically reduces the risk of death from colon cancer.


A person at average risk with normal colonoscopy results won’t need another exam for 10 years. Should a polyp or cancer be found, follow-up intervals may be more frequent.

The colonoscopy procedure is safe and effective, well-tolerated, and can potentially save your life.p>


How can I lower the risk of colorectal cancer?

  • Get regular colorectal cancer screenings beginning at age 50. If you have a personal or family history of colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps, or a personal history of another cancer or inflammatory bowel disease, talk to your doctor about earlier screening.
  • Eat a low-fat diet.
  • Tobacco use increases your risk of colorectal cancer.  If you use tobacco, quit. If you don't use tobacco, don’t start.
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes three to four days each week. Even moderate exercise such as walking, gardening, or climbing steps may help reduce your risk.
  • Reduce weight. Obesity is now a well-established risk factor for colon cancer and many other chronic diseases.
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