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Cancer is one of the deadliest diseases affecting Americans every year. While some are extremely difficult to treat, others, such as colorectal cancer, can be treated with high survival rates as long as they’re caught early.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer in both women and men in the United States. It’s also the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths. The earlier the stage, the higher the five-year survival rate.
Here’s how to tell if you’re experiencing key symptoms of this type of cancer, and what you can do to lower your risk even if you aren’t.
Colorectal cancer symptoms
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The most common signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer include:
- Weakness or fatigue
- Unintentional weight loss
- Change in bowel habits lasting more than several days
- Cramping or abdominal pain
- Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool.
Cancer affects everyone differently. Each individual’s experience varies. But even if you don’t experience all of the signs or symptoms below, you should talk to your doctor if things don’t seem right. It’s always better to get checked out than to ignore it.
Are you at risk?
According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer risk factors might include:
- Age (risk increases after age 50)
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Smoking and heavy alcohol use
- Physical inactivity
- Overweight or obesity
- A diet high in red and/or processed meats
As with most diseases, your level of risk depends both on factors you can and can’t control. This is why it’s possible to lower your chances of getting cancer, but there’s almost no way to totally prevent every type.
How to lower your colorectal cancer risk
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The good news is, you do have some control over your risk. You can’t change your genes, your age, or your family’s cancer history. But there are a few important measures you can start taking now to lower your disease risk later in life.
The most important and possibly the most effective precaution is to get tested. Screening can catch cancer cells before they have the chance to spread throughout your body and cause more damage and harm. If you’re over the age of 45, talk to your health care provider about the right tests for you.
It’s also important to pay attention to your weight and physical activity level. Both weight gain and physical inactivity aren’t just risk factors for colorectal cancer — though they’re big ones. You also increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other types of cancer when you don’t take care of your body in the long-term.
Additionally, research has shown that diet and other lifestyle factors also lower your colorectal cancer risk. People who eat plenty of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and monitor their red meat consumption, are less likely to develop the disease. Making sure you aren’t drinking too much alcohol also matters for a variety of cancer types.
Living a healthy, active lifestyle doesn’t necessarily guarantee you won’t get cancer. But every day you do something to fuel and exercise your body, you increase your chances of living a cancer-free life just a little bit more.
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