The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2017:
- there will be 95,520 new cases of colon cancer
- there will be 39,910 new cases of rectal cancer
- colon cancer will cause about 50,260 deaths
- the lifetime risk of getting colon cancer is about:
- 1 in 21 (4.7%) for men
- 1 in 23 (4.4%) for women
The death rate from colon cancer has dropped in both men and women for several decades. This is because the polyps (small clumps of cells that form on the colon lining) that can lead to cancer are now found more often by screening and can be removed. Cancerous polyps are being found earlier when the disease is easier to treat. Treatment for colon cancer has continued to improve over the last few decades, which is why there are now more than one million colon cancer survivors in the United States!
Here are some changes you can make to lower your risk:
- Be active: This lowers your risk of colon cancer and developing polyps. Regular moderate activity (a brisk walk, doing general gardening, etc.) lowers your risk, and vigorous activity (jogging/running, jumping rope, swimming laps, etc.) might help even more.
- Eat a healthy diet: Diets that are high in vegetables, fruits and whole grains have been shown to reduce colon cancer risk. Diets that are high in red meats, such as beef and pork, and processed meats, such as hot dogs and some lunch meats, can raise your risk. Limit how much red and processed meat is in your diet.
- Limit your alcohol use: Many studies have found that drinking more alcohol leads to a higher risk of colon cancer. Per day, men should limit their alcohol use to no more than two drinks and women to one drink.
- Avoid smoking: Smoking can lead to a number of health issues including colon cancer. Compared to non-smokers, smokers have an increased risk of getting and dying from colon cancer. To learn more, go to waverlyhealthcenter.org/tobacco or call (319) 483-1361.
- Get a regular screening: This is perhaps the greatest tool there is for preventing colon cancer. It usually takes 10 to 15 years from the time the first abnormal cells start to grow into polyps to develop into colon cancer. Having a regular colon cancer screening can help find and remove polyps early.
Although there are many things you can do to lower your risk of colon cancer, there are certain things that you cannot control. Your chances of getting colon cancer are greater if you have any of the following risk factors:
- Are older than 50 years of age
- Have a personal history of colon polyps or colon cancer
- Have a personal history of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). It is important to note that IBD is different from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which does not increase your risk of colon cancer.
- Have a family history of colon cancer or adenomatous polyps
- Have an inherited syndrome such as Familial Adenomatous Polyposis or Lynch Syndrome
- Are African-American or are a Jew of Eastern European descent
- Have Type 2 Diabetes