Colorectal cancer is ‘preventable, treatable, beatable’

By Jeff Hansel

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

The topic of colorectal cancer might seem uncomfortable.

Talk about colons and rectums and people get squeamish.

But if you talk about colorectal cancer now — and take action — you could save your own life, or the life of a loved one, says a gastroenterologist from Mayo Clinic.


Colorectal cancer "is the third-leading cause of cancer deaths," said Dr. Paul Limburg. Yet up to 90 percent of colorectal cancers are preventable, he said.

"Most cases of colon cancer begin as small, noncancerous (benign) clumps of cells," says Over time, they "become colon cancers." Removing polyps during a colonoscopy can be a relatively simple procedure to prevent the transformation. But quality of life after surgery for colorectal cancer varies widely.

Fewer than two-thirds of Minnesotans who should get screenings actually get them, Limburg said, noting that there are 150,000 new cases of colorectal cancer diagnosed annually in the country.

"There are newer technologies that are coming out to identify people at risk and to treat precancerous polyps," he said. One example, at Mayo’s Web site: Virtual colonoscopy.

Here’s what you should know:

  • Pay attention, and see your doctor if there’s blood in your stool. It appears when polyp fragments fall off.
  • Men and women should start getting screened at age 50, even if symptomless. Get a baseline screening early.
  • Personal risk factors, such as family history, might suggest screening should start earlier.
  • If polyps are found and removed, you might need more-frequent screening.
  • Diet probably plays a role in colorectal cancer. Too much red meat increases your risk. Excess body weight might too.
  • Smoking, too, increases your risk, but exercise decreases it.

Colorectal cancer is "preventable, treatable, beatable," Limburg said.
"The single best way to prevent colon cancer is to have a screening test," he said. Current research focuses on figuring out who’s most at risk, how to decrease risk, improved screening and chemo-prevention.

"We’re talking sort of a multi-targeted approach," Limburg said. He wants families to be more open about the risk.

"Have a talk with your family members about colorectal cancer," Limburg said. "Try to break down those barriers within your own family."


Reporter Jeff Hansel covers health for the Post-Bulletin. Read his blog, Pulse on Health, at

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