Digestive Health Center

Text Size

Colon Cancer - What's Your Risk?

couple-beach-dogTo determine whether you are at risk of developing polyps or colorectal cancer, respond to the following questions by answering either “yes” or “no.”

Are you 50 years old or older?
Age is a very significant risk factor for colorectal cancer: The older you are, the higher the risk. With each decade past 40, colorectal polyps and cancers become more common. About 40% of people over the age of 60 will have at least one pre-cancerous polyp. Cancers are very rare in people under 40 years of age, except where there is a strong family history.

Have you had a colorectal polyp or cancer in the past?
If you've had colorectal polyps or cancer in the past, you have a greater risk of getting more. For example, if you've had a polyp that was an adenoma, the type of polyp that can turn into cancer, there is a 50-percent chance that you will develop more polyps. If your colon has produced several polyps already, there is more than an 80-percent chance that you'll continue to develop them in the future.

Has anyone in your family had polyps or colorectal cancer?
Sometimes the abnormal genes in the cells lining the colon which allow polyps and cancers to develop are inherited. The more family members diagnosed with colorectal polyps or cancers, the higher your risk. But in most cases, the genes become abnormal by chance or because of cancer-producing chemicals (carcinogens) in the foods we eat.

Do you eat more fats than fiber?
Many lifestyle factors have been associated with a higher risk for colorectal cancer. These include eating too much red meat and animal fats, and not eating enough fiber or fresh vegetables. Obesity and a sedentary lifestyle may also increase your risk.

Have you had inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis?
A long history (more than eight years) of ulcerative colitis or, to a lesser extent, Crohn's disease may contribute to the risk of colorectal cancer.

Have you noticed persistent changes in your bowel habits?
The presence of symptoms means that you may need attention beyond screening. The most important of these symptoms is rectal bleeding, while a noticeable change in your bowel patterns is also of concern. If you develop these symptoms, or you have one or more risk factors, don't delay in seeking medical attention.

Did you answer YES to more than one of these questions?
Having a combination of risk factors significantly increases your overall risk of developing colorectal polyps and cancer. For example, if you have already had a polyp, and find out a close relative has also had one, your risk status is increased. Risk status can change, therefore, and should be updated.

The Results
If you answered yes to one or more of the questions above; you are at risk for developing colorectal polyps or cancers.

If You Are at Risk, What Do You Do?
First, pat yourself on the back! By taking the time to determine your risk for colorectal cancer, you have taken an important step toward preventing it. Now make an appointment with your personal physician or a gastroenterologist or a colorectal surgeon.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can be thought of as chronic heartburn. The term refers to the frequent backing up (reflux) of stomach contents (food, acid and/or bile) into the esophagus. GERD also refers to the array of medical complications, some serious, that can arise from this reflux.

Though it causes discomfort, occasional heartburn is not harmful. But if you have heartburn frequently, your stomach's acid may inflame the lining of your esophagus, narrowing it. Stomach acid may also change the cells of your esophagus. This change, called Barrett's esophagus, increases the likelihood of cancer from 1 in 100,000 to 1 in 100. Your stomach's contents can also move into your throat and be drawn past your vocal cords and into your lungs, where they can cause damage, along with hoarseness, a chronic dry cough or asthma.

Anyone can develop GERD at any age. You are more likely to develop it as you get older. Nearly one out of every 10 American adults has heartburn daily. Pregnant women are especially prone to GERD; nearly one out of every four pregnant women has heartburn every day.

GERD and Heart Disease
GERD can cause a crushing pain in your chest identical to the pain of a heart attack. Sometimes medical professionals diagnose GERD after treating a patient for repeated episodes of chest pain that are not caused by heart disease.

IMPORTANT! Never ignore pain in your chest. If you think you are having a heart attack, any delay in getting help may be fatal. If your doctor says you have GERD, ask what you should do when you have chest pain.

Esophagitis, or inflammation of the esophagus, is a major complication of GERD. If GERD is left untreated, esophagitis can cause bleeding, ulcers and chronic scarring. This scarring can narrow the esophagus, eventually interfering with your ability to swallow. People with esophagitis need to be checked for the development of Barrett's esophagus.

Barrett's esophagus results when the body replaces normal cells in the esophagus with cells similar to those inside the intestine. The presence of these cells is a precursor of adenocarcinoma, a particularly deadly kind of cancer. Developing Barrett's esophagus does not mean you will get cancer. But your chances of getting cancer will be greatly increased. Your doctor will want to check you on a regular basis in order to detect any cancer in its early stages.

Asthma and Other Complications
Pulmonary, or lung, damage is a major complication of GERD. GERD can lead to the formation of scar tissue in the lungs. It can also cause the onset of adult asthma. As many as eight out of every 10 people with asthma may have GERD. Some cases of adult-onset asthma, especially in those with no history of allergies or childhood asthma can be traced to GERD. Treating GERD may help avoid the onset of asthma and sometimes can relieve asthma.

GERD can also lead to chronic hoarseness, a chronic cough, sleep disturbance, laryngitis, halitosis (bad breath), growths on the vocal cords, feeling as if there is a lump in your throat (globus sensation), earaches and dental problems.

Symptoms

  • Frequent heartburn (the most common symptom, but not present in all cases)
  • Hoarseness
  • Laryngitis
  • Nausea
  • Sore throat
  • Chronic dry cough, especially at night
  • Asthma
  • Globus sensation (feeling as if there is a lump in your throat)
  • Bad breath
  • Earaches

In infants and children, GERD can produce these symptoms:

  • Recurrent vomiting
  • Coughing
  • Breathing problems
  • A failure to thrive

H. pylori testing is essential in patients with peptic ulcer disease. A negative test will focus the rest of the diagnostic evaluation on other causes of peptic ulcer disease, such as NSAID use, and prevents unnecessary antibiotic therapy. There are a number of diagnostic tests available for detecting H. pylori infection. H. pylori may be diagnosed from stomach biopsies obtained during endoscopy. Breath samples may be examined for byproducts of the bacteria. Finally, blood samples may be checked for antibodies (substances produced to fight the infection) to H. pylori. The presence of H. Pylori can lead to stomach cancer.

Finance Options

Click here for funding options.

Advance Care Card - Apply Today!

What's New in GI?

Gastroenterology is an ever-changing field of medicine. Please review articles on recent advances in the prevention, treatment, and cure of digestive diseases at Digestive Health & Nutrition Magazine