Today, the incidence of colon and rectal cancer, or colorectal cancer as they are collectively known, is much higher in the UAE than in other countries.
Although this fact may be concerning, it is important to remember that, while colorectal cancer is the second most common cancer in the UAE, survival rates can range from 80 to 92% if detected early.
So here’s what you can do to prevent it, or catch it early:
Your lifestyle plays a big role in colorectal cancer risk
Before anything else, if you’re a smoker, kicking the habit is the first thing you need to do to lower your risk of colorectal cancer. It might be easier said than done, but your doctor will be able to share lots of advice to help you give up successfully.
Another serious risk factor is your diet. If you eat a lot of red meat, like beef, or indulge in more than one alcoholic drink per day, you may increase your chances of developing the disease.
Additionally, if you’re overweight or don’t engage in a lot of physical activity, your likelihood of getting cancer is much higher than people who are active.
To reduce your risk, eat a lot of fiber, fruits and vegetables, and do 20 minutes of medium-level exercise daily – a brisk walk, slow bike ride, or even cleaning the house.
However, there are certain risks you can’t do anything about – as you grow older, your risk of colorectal cancer increases.
Identifying and screening for colorectal cancer
There are a number of ways to screen for colorectal cancer, but a colonoscopy is the only way you can detect it before it even begins. That’s because colorectal cancer doesn’t just appear, it starts as a small growth called a polyp, which, if left undetected over a number of years, can develop into cancer.
If a polyp is detected during a colonoscopy, it is good news because it can usually be removed, preventing colorectal cancer in the future.
Risks for colorectal cancer vary based on race, age and medical history. Once you reach 40 years of age, it’s time to get a colonoscopy, and if it’s clear, you won’t require a check-up for another 10 years.
People with a family history of colorectal cancer are also at a higher risk, and may need to start having colonoscopies earlier.
Signs you shouldn’t ignore
It is quite possible to have colorectal cancer and not realize it. However, there are signs that may show up, such as blood in your stool, which can give you an indication that you need to see the doctor immediately.
Other symptoms to be aware of include weight loss, changes in frequency of bowel movement and changes in stool consistency. If you notice any of these issues, it’s time to see your doctor.
Treating colorectal cancer
Today, we have progressed enormously in the treatment of colorectal cancer. In most cases, a simple surgery removes the part of the bowel that has cancer in it, and can be done laparoscopically with small incisions. In more advanced cases, chemotherapy can help decrease the risk of a relapse after the surgery.
Overall, colorectal cancer is a highly preventable disease today, and if detected early, has a survival rate of up to 92%. But early detection is, of course, dependent on regular colonoscopies.
Your doctor will be able to advise on ways to further lower your risk of colorectal cancer, and when you should start having regular colonoscopies.