Health Advice Column
One such inherited genetic factor is called Hereditary Nonpolyposis Colorectal Cancer (HNPCC). Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), also known as Lynch syndrome, accounts for at least half of colorectal cancers that run in families. (However, only 3% or less of all colorectal cancers are due to this problem). About 50 - 80% of people who inherit the abnormal gene will develop colon cancer. HNPCC tends to develop in the right side of the colon, often in young individuals. (Left-sided cancers can still occur as well.)
It is possible to have colon or rectal cancer without symptoms. Many patients are free of symptoms until their tumors are quite advanced.
Weight loss and changes in bowel movements are general symptoms for colon cancer, but also occur in many other diseases.
Blood in the stools is a common sign of many intestinal cancers. It may appear red if it is fresh or black if it is old. It should be reported to a doctor immediately, even though it is often caused by conditions other than cancer, including:
- Minor tears around the rectal or anal areas
- Stools can turn red after eating certain red foods, such as beets or red licorice
- Iron supplements and medications that have bismuth subsalicylate, most commonly Pepto-Bismol, can cause stools to turn black
Nevertheless, blood in the stools is an abnormal finding that should never be ignored. Always report it to your doctor for further advice.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the U.S., with Americans facing a lifetime chance of 5.5 - 6% for this cancer. In 2005, colorectal cancer was expected to cause 145,290 new cases and 56,290 deaths in the United States. About 72% of cancers occur in the colon and 28% in the rectum.
Sex - The lifetime risk of cancer of the colon or rectum is 5.9% for men and 5.5% for women.
Age - Colorectal cancer risk increases with age. More than 90% of these cancers occur in people over age 50.
Ethnicity - African Americans have the highest risk of being diagnosed with, and dying from, colorectal cancer. Among Caucasians, Jews of Eastern European (Ashkenazi) descent have an elevated rate of colorectal cancer. Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders, Hispanics/Latinos, and American Indians/Alaska Natives have a lower risk than Caucasians. In all ethnic groups, men have a higher risk than women.
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