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Colorectal cancer screening and early detection are key to effective treatment

Written By: Kim Kham, UT Physicians | Updated: February 21, 2024
doctor showing information on tablet to patient in medical office.

With more proactive screening and advanced treatment options, the death rate associated with colorectal cancer has dropped.

Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States for both men and women. You can help by sharing this article, getting involved, or raising awareness about the benefits of colorectal screenings.

Screenings are recommended for adults starting at age 45. More than 90% of colorectal cancer occurs in people age 50 and over, and that risk continually increases as you get older.

Amit Agarwal, MD
Amit K. Agarwal, MD

“Colorectal cancer doesn’t always show symptoms. You could have precancerous polyps or colorectal cancer and not even know it,” said Amit K. Agarwal, MD, a colon and rectal surgeon with UT Physicians and an associate professor in the Department of Surgery at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston.

Other risk factors may also increase the possibility of colorectal cancer.

“If you have a family history of colorectal cancer or have an inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s, your risk is much higher,” said Agarwal. “Lifestyle factors, such as overconsumption of processed meats, low physical activity, and tobacco or excessive alcohol use, also affect your risk.”

Eating a balanced diet, quitting smoking, and lowering alcohol consumption can improve your overall health and lifestyle and lower your risk for colorectal cancer.

Signs and symptoms

Be proactive and talk to your doctor if you experience any of the signs or symptoms below:

  • Change in bowel movements — constipation, diarrhea, or narrowing of stool sizes
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort — cramps, bloating, gas, or feeling full
  • Rectal bleeding — stools may appear bloody or dark red
  • Weakness or fatigue — unexplained weight loss, vomiting, or nausea

Since these symptoms may overlap with other gastrointestinal problems, screening, and early detection is essential.

Screening options

There isn’t a best option when it comes to screening for polyps or colorectal cancer, but you have several choices.

“Screening options like stool tests, colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, or computed tomography (CT) colonography have their advantages and disadvantages. You should consult with your doctor to see which is right for you,” said Agarwal.

Treatments options for colorectal cancer

Treatments range from surgery to chemotherapy. Your treatment options will vary based on what stage the cancer is in and where it is located.

“Surgery is often the choice for earlier diagnoses while chemotherapy is usually the option for late stages,” said Agarwal. “The more complex the cancer, the more advanced the cancer treatment needs to be.”

It’s important to review all of your treatment options, including the possible side effects, with your doctors to help make the decision that best fits your needs.

The death rate from colorectal cancer has been dropping in both men and women for several decades. This is likely due to early detection from screenings, in addition to improvements in colorectal cancer treatments.

To learn more about our colon and rectal team, visit our dedicated colon and rectal specialty page.

To schedule an appointment, please call 713-486-4740.

As the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, UT Physicians has locations across the Greater Houston area to serve the community. To schedule an appointment, call 888-4UT-DOCS.