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What is Colorectal Cancer?

Felix* is an active 67 year-old who lives and works in the Greater Seattle area. He golfs on a weekly basis and works at the golf course pro-shop.  

Once a year, he comes into Iora Primary Care for his annual wellness visit. At his last visit, we spoke with him about one of the most common cancers for adults over 65 years of age – Colorectal Cancer. Together we discussed screenings for colorectal cancer and determined which method would be the best for him. Felix left with a take-home test which, unfortunately, came back positive.

Take home colon cancer test

*Note: Patient name was changed for confidentiality. 

What happens after a positive take home test? Iora would like to share some facts about colon cancer, why and how we screen, and how we help our patients, like Felix. Read on to see how Felix is doing now.

What is Colorectal Cancer?

Senior man grips his lower abdomen in pain at the doctor's office

Cancer occurs when cells malfunction and reproduce abnormally, eventually causing harm to the surrounding body tissues. Colorectal cancer occurs when cells in the rectum or colon malfunction and grow into polyps and cancer.

    • Polyps vs. Cancer: When we screen for colorectal cancer we are looking for two things: polyps or cancer. Polyps are precancerous growths that may eventually turn into cancer. If found early, polyps can be removed before they turn into cancer.
    • Symptoms: Oftentimes there aren’t any symptoms, but sometimes you may find blood in your stool, have stomach pain or cramps that don’t go away, or experience unexplained weight loss.
  • Risk Factors:

      • Family History: Having a parent, sibling, or child that has had colorectal cancer.
      • Age: The risk of developing colorectal cancer increases as you age. Anyone over the age of 50 should have routine screenings.
      • Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Having Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or a similar disease increases your risk of developing colorectal cancer.
  • Lifestyle Factors:

      • Overweight or obese
      • Sedentary lifestyle
      • Low-fiber diet
      • High fat diet (specifically animal fat)
      • Alcohol and tobacco use

How do we screen for Colorectal Cancer?

Laboratory test tubes

We recommend anyone over the age of 50 have routine screening for colorectal cancer. There are a couple of ways we do these screenings. If you have a family member (parent or sibling) with a history of colorectal cancer then you should have a colonoscopy. If you have no family history, then there are a couple of options. They are all equally effective:

  • Colonoscopy: A colonoscopy procedure uses a camera that is inserted into the rectum and then into the colon. This allows the doctor to see if there are any colorectal cancers or precancerous polyps present. If the doctor finds any cancer or polyps, they may be able to remove them during the colonoscopy. If you have a normal colonoscopy, your next one is typically recommended in 10 years. If polyps or cancer are found, the doctor will discuss a follow-up plan with you.
  • Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT Card): A FIT card uses stool samples to see if there is any blood in your stool that can’t be seen. This method is completed in the comfort of your own home and is equally as effective. If the FIT card has a negative result, you will need to repeat this again in one (1) year. This screening is only able to tell us if there is microscopic blood in the stool, and cannot tell us if there are polyps or cancerous growths. If the FIT card comes back with a positive result, it would be necessary to go have a colonoscopy.

Please discuss the best screening method with your care team. If you are needing a primary care provider to discuss this with, Iora is happy to support you – we welcome new patients. 

Preventing Colorectal Cancer

A senior couple stretches outdoors

There are few things that you can do to reduce your risk of developing colorectal cancer.

  • Weight: It is important to maintain a healthy weight. More belly fat has been shown to increase your risk of colorectal cancer.
  • Exercise: Exercising regularly is important to staying healthy, not only for colorectal cancer but other illnesses and chronic conditions as well.
  • Healthy Diet: It is important to eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. All of these foods contain fiber, which keeps your bowels happy and healthy.
  • Alcohol: Eliminating or reducing alcohol intake can help reduce your risk.
  • Regular Screening: Be sure to follow-up with the plan you make with your doctor to have regular FIT cards or colonoscopies.

After Felix’s positive take home test, we referred him to a gastroenterology specialist for a colonoscopy. The colonoscopy showed that he had precancerous polyps, which could have eventually turned into colon cancer. By catching these polyps early, Felix was able to get them removed, which prevented him from the possibility of developing colorectal cancer. Felix can now concentrate on enjoying the Golden Years and continuing to perfect his golf swing!

Screenings allow us to catch potentially life-threatening illnesses early and reduce the chance that they will progress into something deadly. If you have any questions, Iora encourages you to contact your Care Team to discuss your screening options for colorectal cancer. You can also find more information on the Colorectal Cancer Alliance website: www.ccalliance.org.

A healthy diet is a key factor in preventing colorectal cancer. Learn how to get the essential nutrients you need in your everyday diet.

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