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A Division of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services

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Maine Cancer Registry - Colorectal Cancer: Risk Factors, Prevention & Early Detection

Colorectal Cancer in the U.S.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer among U.S. men and women, following prostate and lung cancer in men and breast and lung cancer in women. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. According to the 2006 American Cancer Society, Cancer Facts & Figures, an estimated 148,610 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer and 55,170 people will die from this disease annually. Until the mid 1980's, colorectal cancer was diagnosed as often among African Americans as Whites; however, in the mid 1980's White rates began to decline while African American rates did not. Similarly, the rate of death from colorectal cancer has been slowly declining among Whites since 1978, but only started declining among African Americans in the late 1990's. Industrialized countries in North America and Western Europe tend to have much higher rates of colorectal cancer cases and deaths than the less industrialized countries in Africa and Asia.

Risk Factors for Colorectal Cancer

Studies over many years have shown several factors to be associated with colorectal cancer:

  • A personal or family history of colorectal polyps or cancer
  • Not exercising
  • Eating a lot of red meat and saturated fat
  • Not eating a lot of fruits and vegetables

Prevention of Colorectal Cancer

The most effective ways now known to reduce our chances of getting colon cancer may be the following:

  • Eating a diet low in red meat and animal fat
  • Eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables (at least five servings a day)
  • Getting some exercise every day
  • Getting screened for colon polyps after age 50

Early Detection of Colorectal Cancer

Why is early detection important?

  • Cases detected early (local disease) have about a 90% chance of living for at least five more years.
  • Cases detected at the distant stage (when disease has spread to another part of the body) have only a 10% chance of living for five more years.

How to Improve your Chances of Detecting Colorectal Cancer Early

The average-risk person 50 years of age or older, should have one of the following tests to screen for colorectal cancer. You and your health care provider should discuss which test is best for you.

  • Home stool-blood test every year
    OR
  • Sigmoidoscopy every 5 years
    OR
  • Home stool-blood test every year AND sigmoidoscopy every 5 years
    OR
  • Colonoscopy every 10 years
    OR
  • Double contrast barium enema every 5 years

All positive tests should be followed up with a colonoscopy.

If you have risk factors (for example you or a family member has a history of colon cancer or polyps), you should talk to your health care provider about the best way to be screened.

For information on colorectal cancer statistics in Maine, please see MCR's Annual Reports.