This Is The Second Deadliest Cancer & It’s Also Very Preventable

Assistant Managing Editor By Abby Moore
Assistant Managing Editor
Abby Moore is an assistant managing editor at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine.
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Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third most common cancer in the US and the second leading cause of cancer deaths for both men and women combined. American Cancer Society (ACS) estimated 53,000 people will die from CRC in 2020. Contrary to what those numbers would suggest, it’s actually one of the most preventable cancers. 

We consulted cancer epidemiologist from the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research Christine Molmenti, M.P.H, Ph.D. to find out who is at risk and the best ways to prevent colorectal cancer. 

Who is at risk of colorectal cancer?

Age can be a risk factor for this type of cancer, with the majority of diagnoses in people over 50. Gender does not seem to play a factor though, considering it’s the third leading cause of cancer in both male and female US adults. 

Other factors include people with type 2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel conditions, including Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, as well as people who have unhealthy body weights, regularly consume alcohol, smoke, or eat processed meat.

Any family history of colorectal cancer can double the likelihood of being diagnosed, while a first-degree relative—aka sibling, parent, or child—with certain polyps can up to quadruple the likelihood, according to Molmenti. 

“This is often overlooked since many people don’t think about talking to their siblings after they receive their colonoscopy report,” she said, “and physicians don’t always communicate the important implications that a polyp diagnosis can have for family members.” 


What’s the best way to screen?

If those polyps mentioned are present in your family members, screening should begin at 40 years old or before. The polyps are one or more centimeters long and have a specific type of cell that can make them cancerous. 

“Colonoscopy is the gold standard for colorectal cancer screening,” Molmenti said. These exams only need to be repeated every 10 years if everything looks normal. 

Without family history or other risk factors, colonoscopies should be scheduled as soon as a person turns 50, but no later. Molmenti told us “many young people may have undiagnosed colorectal cancer between 49 to 50 years old. Therefore it is essential to schedule your colonoscopy as soon as you are eligible.”

What’s the best way to prevent it?

Eating a high fiber diet with dark colored fruits, like berries, and whole grains can support optimal gut health, according to Molmenti. “It’s also important to limit consumption of red and processed meat, and alcohol to prevent colorectal cancer.”

Developing healthy habits, like exercise and eating lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, can prevent obesity which “is causally related to 12 different cancers, including colorectal cancer.” 

What’s the bottom line?

Though colorectal cancer is deadly, it’s also highly preventable. The American Cancer Society estimates that of all people diagnosed with colorectal cancer early (through proper screening) 90% will be living 5 years after diagnosis.

Raising awareness of its prevalence, risk factors, and methods of prevention can hopefully reduce the estimated 145 deaths per day, which Molmenti said are expected in 2020. 

“Even if you have a family history,” she said, “your lifestyle habits have the ability to modify your risk.”

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