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Certain behaviors increase cancer risks
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Colorectal cancer is equally common in both men and women, and the American Cancer Society tells us that 149,810 cases will be diagnosed in the United States this year.
An estimated 49,960 people will die from it in 2008 and this is so sad as it is also one of the most easily prevented cancers.  
Colorectal cancer refers to cancer that develops in the colon or the rectum, which are parts of the digestive system (aka gastrointestinal or GI system). The digestive system processes food for energy and rids the body of solid waste matter. One of the reasons this cancer is so easily prevented is that colorectal cancer usually develops from polyps and these can be removed before they become cancerous.
Listed below are risk factors for colorectal cancer:
• Age is the primary risk factor, with more than 90 percent of cases of colorectal cancer diagnosed in people older than 50.
• Risk is increased by a personal or family history of colorectal cancer and/or polyps, or a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease.
• Recent studies indicate that tobacco users are 30-40 percent more likely than non-smokers to die from colorectal cancer.  Smoking may be responsible for causing about 12 percent of this cancer.
• Alcohol consumption
• Physical inactivity
• Obesity
• A diet high in saturated fat and/or red meat, as well as inadequate intake of fruits, vegetables and fiber.
Pre-cancerous polyps or early colorectal cancers often present no signs or symptoms making it extremely important that people older than 50 -- and others deemed at-risk for colorectal cancer -- follow recommended screening guidelines. Symptoms most often appear when the cancer is more advanced. If you experience any of the following symptoms, check with your doctor soon:
1. Change in bowel habits such as diarrhea, constipation or narrowing of the stool that lasts for more than a few days
2. A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by doing so
3. Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool (often, though, the stool will look normal)
4. Stomach discomfort (bloating, fullness and/or cramps) and frequent gas pains
5. Weakness or fatigue
6. Weight loss for no apparent reason and/or constant tiredness
7. Vomiting
When colorectal cancers are detected at an early stage, the five-year survival rate is about 90 percent.  However, only 39 percent of colorectal cancers are diagnosed at this stage, mostly due to low rates of screening.
DHR and the American Cancer Society recommend one of the following tests, beginning at age 50:
• Fecal occult blood test annually
• Flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years
• Double-contrast barium edema every five years
• Colonoscopy every 10 years

Ratcliff works with the Coastal Health District
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