Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal Cancer: Know Your Risks & Get Tested

If you only take away one thing from this article, it should be this: colorectal cancer testing is one of the best ways to protect yourself from this deadly disease, so talk to your doctor about when testing is right for you.

Take a couple more minutes to learn about colorectal cancer causes, risks, and prevention. The more you know, the easier it is to take the right steps to protect yourself.

What is Colorectal Cancer?

Colorectal Cancer Chart

Colorectal cancer is the second-deadliest cancer in the United States. It’s usually thought of as men’s health issue because, even though both men and women are at equal risk, men are more likely to develop rectal cancer. Also known simply as colon cancer, it’s a disease that occurs in the colon (the bowel) or rectum (the passageway from the colon to the anus). Colon cancer starts as abnormal growths called polyps, which may become cancerous over time. If these polyps are detected early enough, there is an excellent chance of survival. However, left undetected, the polyps can quickly become cancerous. And left untreated, colon cancer can quickly spread to other areas of the body. This is why everyone over the age of 50 needs to get screened.

What Are the Symptoms?

Woman with Stomach Ache

Colorectal cancer often has no symptoms, which is why regular screenings can make the difference between life and death. As the disease advances through the body, common symptoms include:

  • A noticeable change in your bowel habits that last four weeks or more
  • Bloody stools (bowel movements)
  • Stomach pain or cramps that don’t go away
  • Unexplained weight loss

If any of these symptoms sound familiar, particularly the ones relating to your bowel and bathroom habits, see your doctor right away.

Risk Factors You Can’t Change

Man With a Doctor

Age is the number one risk factor for colon cancer. Statistics show that 90% of colorectal cancer cases occur in those 50 years of age or older.

Other risk factors include:

  • A personal history of inflammatory bowel disease
  • A family history of colorectal cancer
  • Certain genetic/inherited abnormalities such as Lynch syndrome, familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), and others

If you have any of these risk factors, your doctor may recommend early or frequent testing.

Risk Factors You Can Control

Woman with Headphones

When you make healthy lifestyle changes to cut your risks for colon cancer, you’re also protecting yourself from many other cancers, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, depression, and more.

  • If you’re overweight, losing just a few pounds can help cut your risks.
  • Heavy drinking raises your risks, so try cutting back on alcohol.
  • Smoking/tobacco use increases your risks for almost all cancers and many other diseases, so take steps to quit.
  • Increase your activity level, particularly cardiovascular exercise. Even taking a few brisk walks every day helps.

  • Increase your activity level. Even taking a few brisk walks every day helps.
  • Ditch the red meat or processed meat products (such as hot dogs and luncheon meat) and opt for lean meats like chicken or fish instead.

Over 50? Schedule a Checkup!

Doctor With a Patient

For those who don’t have the genetic, family, or personal health concerns listed above, the CDC recommends regular screenings beginning at age 50, and screenings following doctor’s recommendations until age 75. Proactive health screenings are some of the best protection against many types of cancer. Adults between the ages of 76- 85 should get screened only when directed by a doctor.

There are several different ways to test for colorectal cancer. Your doctor will recommend the best option for you based on your health history, current risk factors, and your personal preferences. Some of the tests, like the fecal immunochemical test (FIT), are done once a year, and can even be done in your own home. A colonoscopy is a more invasive screening but is only performed once every 10 years. Plus, colorectal cancer screenings are covered at no cost to you by most health coverage plans.

It’s important for you to feel comfortable talking about delicate health matters with your doctor. It’s their job to listen to your health problems and make you feel protected and respected. To help you get that right ‘fit’ so you can start building a great doctor/patient relationship, we created an easy-to-use online tool that lets you find doctors based on your personal preferences for gender, language, and even location. Give it a try – and then schedule that checkup!

Sign Up for COVID-19 Updates

Sign up to receive email updates on the information that matters to you and those you love.

Sign Up Now

Group of women

There’s So Much You Can Do to Protect Yourself from Cervical Cancer

Even though the number of cervical cancer cases has been dropping for the last 40 years, Latina and African American women have the highest rates of any group in the United States. And cervical cancer kills Latinas and African American women at a much higher rate than it does Caucasian women.

Unlike diseases that are genetic or inherited, the high rates of cervical cancer in our communities are due to behavior – not getting routine Pap smears and not knowing about HPV and its highly effective vaccination.

Our prescription for fighting cervical cancer? Knowledge! Read on to learn about how women of every age can protect themselves and reduce their risks.

What is Cervical Cancer?

Doctor Showing a Cervical Cancer Model

Cervical cancer happens when an abnormal group of cells starts growing in the lining of the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus (where a baby grows during pregnancy). These are cells that start out normal but become pre-cancerous. In some women, these pre-cancerous cells go away on their own. In other women, these cells will turn into cervical cancer over several years – and occasionally, these cells turn into cancer in less than a year. The most common type of cervical cancer is called squamous cell carcinomas, though there are other types of cancer than can develop in the cervix.

Cervical cancer symptoms include abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, or pain during sex. Unfortunately, by the time symptoms occur, it’s likely that that cancer has already spread to nearby tissues.

When cervical cancer is caught early and treated, the outcome is very good, with a survival rate as high as 93% — that is, 93% of women who find cervical cancer at the earliest stages are still alive five years after their diagnosis or start of treatment. However, the longer cancer is left undetected and untreated the further it can spread through the body—and become more deadly.

What Causes Cervical Cancer?

Human Papilloma Virus

HPV, or human papillomavirus doesn’t cause cervical cancer 100% of the time, but an HPV infection is the biggest risk factor for getting it.
HPV is spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who is already infected with the virus. Even if the infected person has no signs or symptoms, they can still pass along HPV to a sex partner. In some cases, HPV goes away on its own and doesn’t cause health problems however, it’s best to take steps to avoid infection.

The best protection against it is the HPV vaccine: studies showed that the vaccine is nearly 100% effective in protecting against cervical precancer. The CDC recommends starting the vaccination at age 11 or 12. Women can also get it up to age 26. Check with your regular doctor for additional information.

Preventing Cervical Cancer

Teen Receives a Vaccine

In addition to the getting the HPV vaccine, your best defense is seeing your doctor or gynecologist regularly. The Pap smear is the first way doctors look for the abnormal cells. Women age 21 – 65 should receive Pap smears every three years, or women age 30-65 can be tested every 5 years if an HPV test is done at the same time as the Pap smear. Your doctor will give you the tests that are right for you.

As with many cancers, you may have inherited an increased risk from your family. There are still things you can do to protect yourself and cut your risks. Here are ways you can act immediately:

  • Stop smoking
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • Practice safe sex – since some sexually transmitted diseases may increase your risk or leave you vulnerable

How to Make Your Gynecologist Screenings More Comfortable

Doctor and Patient Talking

You can empower yourself to have a comfortable and productive visit with your gynecologist by taking some of the following steps:

  • Ask to see a female doctor if you’re not comfortable with a male doctor.
  • Bring a friend or relative with you in the exam room.
  • Don’t be afraid to stop the exam and ask questions.
  • Know that whatever is happening with your body is normal and natural – and your doctor has seen it all before.
  • Understand that your visit may be a little uncomfortable, but it should never be painful. If, at any time during the exam, you feel actual pain, tell your doctor.

If you don’t have a regular gynecologist or you’d like to find someone who speaks your language, AltaMed is here for you. Use our Find a Doctor tool to search based on your preferences. You can choose the gender you’re most comfortable with, preferred language, and the city – you’ll find great AltaMed doctors who can keep you and your whole family healthy.

Woman Smiling at 50

Health Screenings After 50

Even if you’ve lived a healthy life, as you enter your 50s, your risk of developing chronic diseases, such as arthritis, heart conditions, cancer, diabetes, and even depression increases. These diseases can take years off your life, as well as affect the quality of your life.

Getting regular screenings can help you:

  • Lower your risk of chronic disease or illness
  • Save money on your medical costs, since chronic diseases require additional medical care
  • Delay or prevent illness or disease by catching them early and treating them

Basically, there’s every reason for you to take charge of your health, especially since most preventive services and screenings are covered by most insurance plans, including Medicaid and Medicare!

Know What Tests You Need

These are a few of the most common screenings you need starting at age 50:

  • Women should get a mammogram every 2 years
  • Colorectal cancer screenings every year
  • Regular diabetes screenings
  • Lipid disorder screenings to monitor blood cholesterol
  • Osteoporosis screenings should start at age 60 to screen for healthy bones

The best way to stay healthy and keep up on your screenings is to get regular health checkups. Depending on your gender and your family health history, your doctor may recommend additional screenings for you.

Call us for more information about the health screenings you need at (888) 499-9303.

Colorectal Cancer: Know Your Risks & Get Tested