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Preventing Colorectal Cancer

Men discussing colorectal cancer on the golf course

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A Q&A With Heliodoro Medina, MD

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States, but there are over a million survivors in the country. Prevention and early detection are keeping more and more people cancer-free each year. Heliodoro Medina, MD, a gastroenterologist with Northwestern Medicine Regional Medical Group, answers top questions about colorectal cancer prevention.

1. Who may be at risk for colorectal cancer?

People over the age of 50 are most susceptible to colorectal cancer. Those who are overweight, smoke or have inflammatory bowel conditions may be more likely to receive a diagnosis. Family history, a sedentary lifestyle and a high fat, low fiber diet are also considered risk factors for colorectal cancer.

2. What are the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer may not give any symptoms, which is why screening is so important. Some people may experience a change in bowel habits, blood in the stool, iron deficiency anemia or unintentional weight loss as a sign of colorectal cancer.

3. Is colorectal cancer preventable?

Yes, colorectal cancer is preventable. Screening exams called colonoscopies look for precancerous lesions called polyps and a gastroenterologist can remove them. Your doctor can recommend when and how often you should receive a colonoscopy to prevent the development of colorectal cancer.

4. What is the procedure for a colonoscopy?

During a colonoscopy, a thin, lighted tube — called a colonoscope — is inserted into your body. A camera at the end of this tube transmits images, allowing the physician to examine your entire colon and rectum. If polyps are found, they can be easily and effectively removed. The colonoscopy procedure itself typically takes just 10 to 30 minutes.

5. What other screening or testing options are available for colorectal cancer?

The colonoscopy is still the gold standard for colorectal cancer screening, however there are a variety of testing options. Basic fecal occult blood testing, stool DNA testing, CT colography and imaging modalities such as double contrast barium enema studies are all used to screen as well.

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