Which Men Are at Risk for Colorectal Cancer?
Anyone with a colon can get colorectal cancer - a collective term that includes both colon cancer and rectal cancer. In the United States, it’s the third leading cause of cancer deaths in men and women. It's estimated that in 2019, more than 145,600 new cases will be diagnosed and more than 50,600 people will die of this form of cancer. The lifetime chance of developing colorectal cancer is 1 in 22 for men, and 1 in 24 for women.
The American Cancer Society recommends colorectal cancer screening beginning at age 45 for both women and men.
Overall, only about 4.2% of men in the U.S. develop colorectal cancer, but several factors increase your risk:
- Age: Your risk of colorectal cancer goes up as you age. It is much more common to get it after age 50, but studies are showing a colon cancer rise in younger adults.
- Family History: If people in your immediate family or near relations had colorectal cancer at a young age, you should be screened earlier.
- Previous Colorectal Cancer: If you've had cancer removed already, you're at higher risk to develop a new one.
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease: If you have had a condition such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis for several years, your risk of colorectal cancer goes up.
Certain lifestyle factors appear to raise the risk of colorectal cancer. They include:
- Drinking more than two alcoholic drinks per day
- Type 2 Diabetes
- A high-fat diet, with fat coming mostly from meat
What Is Colorectal Cancer?
The colon is the large intestine and the rectum is the last six inches of intestine, connecting the colon to the anus. In the U.S., for both sexes, about 72% of colorectal cancer cases occur in the colon and 28% in the rectum.
Colorectal cancer usually develops slowly, beginning first as small growth called a polyp. Polyps may grow larger and eventually turn into cancer. The entire process of a polyp transforming into cancer usually takes several years.
After cancer develops, it grows into the wall of the colon and eventually metastasizes, or spreads. Most of the time, this process is preventable with proper screening.
How Can I Prevent Colorectal Cancer?
The good news is that colorectal cancer is usually preventable. The number one way to prevent it is to get screened. Men and women should begin colorectal cancer screening at age 45. If you have colorectal cancer in your family or other risk factors, tell your doctor. You may need screening at a younger age.
There are several options for screening to reduce colorectal cancer rates:
Stool based tests include:
- Fecal immunochemical test (FIT) yearly
- Guaiac fecal occult blood test yearly
- Stool DNA test every 3 years
Structural examinations include:
- Colonoscopy every 10 years
- Flexible Sigmoidoscopy every 5 years
- CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) every 5 years.
If you have a positive result on a screening test that is not a colonoscopy, further evaluation should be performed on a timely basis with a colonoscopy test to take a look at your entire colon.
Studies show that men were more likely to develop polyps and cancer earlier than women. Therefore, early screening may be even more important for men's health.
Some of the other things men can do today to start lowering colorectal cancer risk are:
- Eating like a hunter-gatherer, not a caveman. Cut back on the red meat, like burgers and steaks. Instead, fill up on more than five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. These changes alone could reduce your risk.
- Getting off the couch. Active men get less colorectal cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends 30 minutes of activity five days a week.
- Quitting smoking and limit drinking. Keep alcohol to one or two drinks a day.
What Are the Treatments for Colorectal Cancer?
The right colorectal cancer treatment is based on the degree of spreading, or stage:
- Cancer that is self-contained inside a polyp can often be cured with a colonoscopy. A snare on the end of the colonoscope cuts the entire cancer out.
- If colorectal cancer has spread into the bowel wall, surgery is needed. Part or all of the colon is removed (hemicolectomy or colectomy).
- Once the cancer has spread into the body, treatment becomes more complex. It will usually involve chemotherapy or other targeted colorectal cancer treatments.
As you can see, the treatments get more aggressive and invasive as the cancer spreads.
What Else Do I Need to Know about Colorectal Cancer?
The greatest tragedy about colorectal cancer is that so many deaths from it are preventable. Sure, the testing can be uncomfortable or embarrassing, but you’ll survive. On the other hand, you may not survive if you don’t get screened. You owe it to yourself -- and your family -- to take colorectal cancer seriously.