Everything you need to know about Colorectal Cancer and how to prevent it

Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer in the world. It claims thousands of lives unnecessarily every year, as it is easily treatable when detected early. Below, Dr. Ali Khalil, gives a quick and insightful breakdown of colorectal cancer and what you and your family can do to prevent it. Read on to stay safe.

What is colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer hits the colon and rectum- it begins as polyps, or growths on the inner lining of the colon and rectum which can become cancerous. Polyps can start off as small as a lentil and grow to become as large as a small potato. When the polyps are larger than 2-3 cm in size, there is an 80% of them being cancerous. During a colonoscopy, a camera is inserted through the rectum to view the entire colon and check for polyps, helping to prevent cancer or detect it at its early stages.

Who should get a colonoscopy?

Anyone above the age of 50 should get a colonoscopy. If a member of your family has had colorectal cancer, you should begin screening 10 years before the age at which they developed the cancer. So if one of your parents was diagnosed at the age of 50, start checking at the age of 40, as it takes about 10 years for polyps to become cancerous. Polyposis is a highly hereditary condition, where there’s a tendency to develop a greater number of polyps, which could eventually become cancerous as early as 40 years of age. If you have a parent with polyposis, you should start screening at 30 years of age.

How often should you check?

If you’re above 50, you should get a colonoscopy every 5 to 10 years. However, certain risk factors, like being overweight, drinking heavily and having other cancers in the family, increase the likelihood of developing colorectal cancer and make it important to check more frequently. If you’re a man with relatives who have had prostate cancer or a woman who has family members who have had breast or uterine cancer, you should check every 3 years.

How often are polyps detected?

Polyps are detected in every 1 out of 4 men and 15% of women above the age of 55. When the detected polyps are large, it could only be a matter of months before they become cancerous, so it’s very important to get screened as soon as possible.

Why you should never put off a colonoscopy:

A colonoscopy could really save your life, and unlike cancer, it’s not scary. In 90% of cases when cancers are detected before symptoms appear, they can be treated. We haven’t gotten much better at treating cancer, but we’ve gotten much better at detecting it at its earlier stages when it is still easily treatable. In the case of colorectal cancers, we can detect polyps when they are precancerous and remove them, preventing the development of cancer to a great extent.  The longer you wait, the larger these polyps grow, the greater the chances of them becoming cancerous, and the more difficult they become to remove. Colonoscopies are inexpensive procedures, especially compared to the cost of treating cancer if it develops. Additionally the risks associated with colonoscopies are very low.

What’s the procedure like?

Many people put off getting a colonoscopy because they’re under the impression that getting ready for the procedure is going to be bothersome. The truth of the matter, however, is that colonoscopy preparations have become quite easy. The day before your screening, you can go about your normal life. Around 5 PM, you will need to start drinking a solution which you will be given envelopes to prepare at home, in order to clear your colon which could contain waste from up to 7 days. Additionally, the day before your screening, you will need to cut down on eating vegetables or foods containing fibers, so they do not stick to the walls of your colon. 

As for the colonoscopy itself, it only takes a 2-hour hospital visit. You won’t need to be admitted, and you’ll be given a local anesthetic for the procedure, in which a camera is inserted through the rectum in order to view the colon. You’ll be able to leave immediately afterwards, assured that you’ve taken the best precautions to keep your health in good shape.

During the colonoscopy, smaller polyps (around 1 cm) will be removed and sent to the lab for analysis. After the procedure, you doctor will follow up with you to check if you encounter any pain or blood in your stool. In 95% of cases, there will be no blood in the stool or further complications.

What are some precautionary steps to take to avoid colorectal cancer?

As with many other types of cancer, but especially with colorectal cancer, it’s important to keep your weight under control. Avoiding heavy drinking reduces the chance of developing polyps. Try to maintain an active lifestyle, by exercising for at least 150 minutes a week, as a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of developing colorectal cancer. In addition, go for a diet that largely consists of fruits, vegetables and fiber, and that is low on protein and fat. Getting your children used to a healthy diet will help protect them in the long run.

Book your colonoscopy today, not tomorrow:

When you feel the symptoms of colorectal cancer, it’s often too late already, so don’t wait for the serious signs like constipation, blood in your stool, blocked intestines or anemia. Stay in the safe zone by booking your colonoscopy today and don’t put yourself at the unnecessary risk of dying from a highly treatable cancer. At BMG, we have long-standing experience with performing a multitude of cancer screenings, and we are fully-equipped with the latest, high-definition screening technologies.

Please contact our HOTLINE 1291 to book your screening to make sure you stay clear of cancer.

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