10 facts to know about colorectal cancer in Tennessee now

partial view of person holding paper made large intestine on grey background

In Tennessee, colorectal cancer ranks 4th for both cancer deaths and new cancer cases. Many know the basics — including the key fact that, when caught early, it can be treated up to 91% of the time.

“The screening tests for colorectal cancer have improved so much in the past few decades,” says Dr. Daniel Cusator, a medical director in care management for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.

“All our tests are more sensitive and accurate, and there are many alternatives to a traditional colonoscopy. So, if you’ve been putting off getting screened because you’re anxious about the procedure, you don’t need to.”

Lower your risk today by doing two things:

  1. Start talking to your doctor about when you should get screened and which screening test might be best.
  2. Stay up to date with the latest facts about colorectal cancer.

10 things to know about colon cancer

1. Colon cancer has no symptoms most of the time.

Colon cancer is frequently asymptomatic, which means there are usually no signs of the disease until it has spread. That’s why screenings are imperative to catch it in time.

2. The screening rate in Tennessee is 69.1%. 

That’s comparable to the U.S. rate of 69.7%.

3. Age is the #1 risk factor for colorectal cancer.

90% of colorectal cancer cases occur in people age 50+. While younger people can get colorectal cancer, in general, risk increases with age.

4. Most people should get screened starting at age 45. 

The American Cancer Society recommends that people at average risk start regular screenings at age 45. This is a change from the age 50 recommendation that was common for many years.

After that:

  • Screenings for people in good health should continue through age 75.
  • For people age 76-85, screening should be based on a person’s preferences, life expectancy, overall health and prior screening history.
  • People over age 85 should no longer get colorectal cancer screening.

5. Your lifetime risk of getting colorectal cancer is about 1 in 24. 

The likelihood of developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 23 (4.3%) for males and 1 in 25 (4.0%) for females.

6. Polyps are the target of a colonoscopy.

“A polyp is a small growth of the tissues that line the colon,” says Dr. Cusator. “It’s a growth of the cells that, over time, can turn into cancerous lesions if left untreated.”

If a polyp is found, it should be removed, which can be done immediately during a colonoscopy. If blood or a polyp is found using an alternative screening method, a colonoscopy should be scheduled.

7. A high red-meat diet puts you at a higher risk of colon cancer.

Meats, and particularly charred meats such as grilled and barbecued meat, can cause gene mutations, and red-meat consumption is high in Tennessee. Fiber and folate, on the other hand, are protective. Try to eat 25–30 grams of fiber each day as well as green leafy vegetables.

5 recipes that are good for your colon

8. Family history is key.

If your family has a history of colon cancer, you may need to start screenings earlier than 45. And you may need to get screened more often than every 5 years.

“The closer the relative who had colon cancer is to you, the more concerned we are about family history,” says Dr. Cusator. “If you have a first-degree relative, such as a parent, who had colon cancer, we need to take extra care with your colon health. The risk decreases for grandparents or aunts and uncles, but it still exists.”

9. 5% of people who develop colorectal cancer have inherited gene mutations.

The most common inherited syndromes are Lynch Syndrome and familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP).

10. Lifestyle choices and health conditions play a huge role in colon cancer risk. 

Your risk of colorectal cancer increases if you:

Have these lifestyle-related factors Have these conditions
– Obesity, which increases your risk by 30%

– Smoking, which makes you 14% more likely to die from colon cancer within 5 years than patients who have never smoked

– Heavy alcohol use

– Lack of exercise

– Diets high in red and processed meats

– Cooking meats at a very high temperature, which can create chemicals on your food that may increase your cancer risk

– Type 2 diabetes

– Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including either ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease

– Inherited syndromes (FAP or Lynch Syndrome)

Adult health check guide: What to get screened for when

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville).

More Posts - LinkedIn

Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.