Healthy Lifestyle

Proper screening, preventive habits are most effective in fight against colorectal cancer

Published: March 5, 2024

Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the fourth-most common cancer for men and women and ranks fourth in terms of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. 

Many symptoms of CRC are minimal or vague, but you shouldn’t ignore:

  • Abdominal pain that consistently gives you fits
  • Changes in bowel habits
  • Rectal bleeding or discovering blood in your stool
  • Unexplained weight loss

Recent reports indicate that men younger than 50 have seen an increase of CRC diagnoses. As a colon and rectal surgeon with Methodist Physicians Clinic, I’ve been seeing more cases of CRC to support this news, and I know that my partners have, as well. It’s unfortunate, but it doesn’t surprise me to see this trend. And the upward climb isn’t caused by one factor alone. 


Screening earlier in life

One reason we’re seeing men under 50 receiving news of CRC is because we’re doing a better job of screening younger men. Instead of waiting until age 50, we’re now recommending that people at average risk for CRC consider scheduling a colonoscopy after turning 45. But if you know that someone in your family had CRC, you should start screening for it when you turn 40 or 10 years before the age of your relative when they were diagnosed – whichever comes first. For example, if your father was diagnosed with CRC when he was 48, you should start screening when you’re 38. But if your father was diagnosed at 52, you should get screened at age 40 rather than waiting another two years.

Fortunately, there are options for CRC screening. Meeting with your primary care provider can help you determine which option is best for you based on your age and family history. The most common screening methods are: 

  • Colonoscopy
  • Stool testing
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy
  • CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy)

Just because we’re seeing an upward trend in CRC cases in younger men doesn’t mean that women are off the hook. If you’re a woman 45 or older and haven’t recently been screened for CRC, now’s the time to contact your primary care provider to determine which screening option is right for you.

Additionally, poor nutrition habits and sedentary lifestyles which are common for many people —directly contribute to the risk of colorectal cancer. The following healthier lifestyle choices not only can prove helpful for your overall health but also are extremely critical to lowering your CRC risk.

  • Drinking more water 
  • Exercising regularly
  • Incorporating additional fiber into your diet
  • Limiting the amount of alcohol you drink
  • Not smoking

A very small percentage of CRC cases are hereditary disorders. The vast majority are sporadic, which is why proper screening and prevention are essential.


Advancements in treatment

It’s promising news that studies are showing continued progress in immunotherapy for patients with CRC. However, this type of treatment is effective for only a small subset of all cancer cases and often only in advanced cases. 

Specific treatments need to pass through multiple phases of a trial before they’re considered for approval as viable treatment options. What’s exciting is that there are breakthroughs and advancements in CRC care being discovered regularly, including advancements in surgeries, targeted therapies and enhanced medications. I’m proud to say that Methodist Health System has patients participating in clinical trials in hopes of discovering new treatments. 

Every patient we treat at Methodist is evaluated, and their case is discussed at our multidisciplinary tumor board. At these regular meetings, each case is reviewed by a team consisting of surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, gastroenterologists, radiologists and cancer care coordinators to ensure that we’re offering every patient the best possible care. Every patient receives a clear plan, influenced by everyone who helps treat our cancer patients. 

While it’s exciting that new immunotherapy drugs are showing potential for another option to fight CRC, it’s important to know that they still have many trials to get through before they’d be approved for us. Prevention with proper screening is still the clear-cut best option we have in the fight against CRC. 

About the Author

As a colon and rectal surgeon with Methodist Physicians Clinic, Dr. Hernan Hernandez has a special interest in treating cancers of the colon and rectum. But no matter a patient's diagnosis, his favorite part of the job is helping people feel better and live life more fully.

Dr. Hernandez wants each of his patients to know this: They won't leave his office without experiencing The Meaning of Care.

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