screenings Archives - NFCR


9 Must-Know Facts About Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon and rectum) continues to affect millions of men and women worldwide, and understanding the disease and what we can do to prevent it is the first step toward a cure.

Quick stats:

  • Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the U.S.
  • Although the death rate from colorectal cancer has been dropping for the past 30 years, it is still the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S.
  • The overall lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is: 1 in 21 for men and 1 in 23 for women.[i]
  • There are currently more than one million colorectal cancer survivors in the U.S.[ii]

Here’s a list of nine facts you need to know about colorectal cancer. And make sure you read about related work by NFCR-funded scientists Dr. Wei Zhang, Dr. Daniel Von Hoff, Dr. Laurence Hurley and Dr. Yung-Chi Cheng.

1. With regular screenings, colorectal cancer is preventable.

Colorectal cancer screening saves lives. In many cases, a screening can prevent colorectal cancer by finding and removing polyps before they turn into cancer. Screening also helps find colorectal cancer at an early stage, when treatment is most effective.

Studies show that regular screening could prevent 1/3 of colorectal cancer deaths in the U.S. The five-year survival rate is 90% if detected early.[iii]

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

90% of colorectal cancer cases appear in men and women 50 years old or older, and the risk for developing this cancer increases with age. Yet, like most disease trends, this isn’t absolute – younger people can get colorectal cancer too.

3. There are warning signs, but not EARLY warning signs.

Like lung cancer and cervical cancer, colorectal cancer can be hard to detect in its earliest stage. Symptoms can include a change in bowel habits; blood in the stool; diarrhea, constipation or feeling that the bowel does not empty all the way; frequent gas pains, bloating, fullness or cramps; weight loss for no known reason; nausea, tiredness and vomiting.[iv] If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your doctor right away.

4. Lifestyle choices impact colorectal cancer risk.

Many lifestyle-related factors are directly linked to colorectal cancer risk. Obesity not only increases your risk of having colorectal cancer by 30%,[v] but it also increases the likelihood of poor treatment outcomes and complications.[vi] Smoking also increases your risk of developing and dying from this type of cancer. One recent study reported that patients with colon cancer who smoke were 14% more likely to die from their colon cancer within five years than patients who had never smoked.[vii]

Other risk factors include heavy alcohol use, lack of exercise and diets high in red and processed meats. Additionally, cooking meats at a very high temperature can create chemicals on your food that may increase your cancer risk.

5. Family history matters.

People with a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, offspring) who has colorectal cancer have two to three times risk of developing this disease.[viii] A personal or family history of polyps (adenomas) also puts you at higher risk – especially if the polyps are large or if there are many of them.

6. Health conditions can increase your risk.

Your risk of colorectal cancer increases if you have the following conditions: Type 2 diabetes; inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including either ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease; and having an inherited syndrome like Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or Lynch Syndrome.[ix]

7. Regular colorectal cancer screenings typically begin at age 50.

Because polyps tend to be seen most often in people 50 years of age and older, experts recommend universal screening for colorectal cancer beginning at this age. If you are under 50 and have a family history of colorectal cancer or other risk factors, talk to your doctor about when you should start regular screening.

8. There are different screening options.

Screening tests can include: colonoscopy; sigmoidoscopy; barium enema; CT colonography or virtual colonoscopy; and at-home tests like the fecal occult blood test, fecal immune testing or stool gene testing.[x] Talk to your doctor to see what screenings are most appropriate for you given your family history, age and lifestyle choices. For more information on cancer screenings, please refer to our.

9. Research helps us attack colorectal cancer – and all types of cancer.

NFCR has distinguished itself from other organizations by emphasizing long-term, transformative research that has the potential to save lives. Our scientists are conducting a wide range of cutting-edge research focused on improving diagnosis and treatment of colorectal cancer – and all types of cancer.

Studying the system of genes that form colorectal cancer

NFCR Fellow Dr. Wei Zhang

NFCR-funded scientist, Dr. Wei Zhang, is the Director of the Wake Forest Baptist Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Precision Oncology Initiative. Dr. Zhang has vast experience identifying biomarkers and genes in colorectal cancer. His current research team is studying how gene expression, gene amplification and mutations relate to and regulate each other. Using data from next-generation sequencing, Dr. Zhang’s team is identifying the genetic drivers or growth-promoting genes of a patient’s cancer.

Dr. Zhang has previously identified microRNAs (miRNAs) as biomarkers to improve colorectal cancer prognosis and predict treatment response. He used blood samples from healthy donors and patients with stage I through IV colorectal cancer, and confirmed that one microRNA molecule – miR-141 – may predict the outcome for stage IV colorectal cancer patients.

Chinese herbal medicine curbs colorectal cancer treatment side effects

NFCR Fellow Dr. Yung-Chi Cheng

For approximately 20 years, with NFCR support, Dr. Yung-Chi Cheng, of Yale University’s School of Medicine, has explored the therapeutic properties of PHY906, a Chinese herbal medicine formula. Dr. Cheng and his laboratory team have discovered that cancer treatment with PHY906, combined with chemotherapy, alleviates
the unpleasant gastrointestinal side effects of chemotherapy for colon and rectal cancer patients. Moreover, their research demonstrated that PHY906 also has its own, solo anti-tumor attributes. If there is continued success in clinical trials, PHY906 could become one of the first FDA-approved oral herbal medicines for anti-cancer treatment.

Targeted drug treatment and key colorectal cancer gene

(Left to Right) NFCR Center for Targeted Cancer Therapies Co-Directors Dr. Daniel Von Hoff and Dr. Laurence Hurley

The c-Myc gene is a cancer-causing gene (or oncogene) that is amplified in colorectal cancer and is a tough molecule in terms of finding targets for drug development. NFCR-sponsored scientists Dr. Daniel Von Hoff and Dr. Laurence Hurley are creating drugs to block large clusters of DNA called “super enhancers,” which control the expression of a network of genes – including the critical and seemingly-undruggable c-Myc gene.

Shutting down colorectal cancer through the blood stream

Dr. Harold F. Dvorak

Dr. Harold Dvorak received funding from NFCR for over 30 year and is responsible for the discovery of the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). His discovery fostered the entire field of vascular biology and led to the development of VEGF-targeting anti-angiogenic drugs. Unlike other anti-cancer drugs that aim to directly kill tumor cells, drugs that target VEGF cut off the blood supply that tumors need to survive.
In 2004, the VEGF-targeting drug Avastin® was approved by the FDA for the treatment of colorectal cancer. More than 280 clinical trials are currently investigating the use of Avastin® in over 50 tumor types.











Read more

8 Proactive Cancer-Preventing Pointers

Over 14 million people worldwide were diagnosed with cancer this past year, according to the World Health Organization. And the numbers are expected to increase by 70% over the next 20 years. [1] With cancer continuing to affect the lives of so many people, it’s important to understand what steps we can take to prevent or reduce cancer risk.

Quick stats:

  • Research has shown that at least 1/3 of all cancer cases are preventable. [2]
  • Last year, over 1.6 million Americans were diagnosed with cancer – that means more than 500,000 cases could have been avoided. [3]
  • Scientists are actively studying different ways to help prevent cancer, including changes in diet and lifestyle, chemoprevention (medicines that treat precancerous conditions or keep cancer from starting) and much more. Read about related work by NFCR-funded scientists Dr. Helmut Sies and Dr. Michael Sporn.

1. Stop smoking

no more smokingA single cigarette contains over 4,800 chemicals, 69 of which are known to cause cancer. Secondhand smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals, including 70 cancer-causing chemicals. [4]  Research has linked smoking with 14 different types of cancer including lung, colon, pancreatic, liver, esophageal, larynx, mouth, throat, kidney, bladder, stomach, cervical and rectal caners, as well as acute myeloid leukemia.

Quitting reduces your risk even if you’ve smoked for years. Talk to your doctor about strategies or free support systems that can help you quit. Also, avoid second-hand smoke whenever possible – it can be just as damaging as personally smoking.

2. Maintain a healthy weight

People who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of many serious health conditions, including cancers.

To control weight gain, eat more fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains. Maintaining a healthy weight throughout life can lower your risk of breast, uterine, prostate, lung, colon, kidney, pancreatic, esophageal, gallbladder and thyroid cancers. [5]

 3. Know your family history

family history formApproximately 5 to 10% of all cancers are considered hereditary, which means you may be at greater risk for some cancers if you have a personal or family history of cancer or certain diseases. [6] Genetic counseling and testing may be recommended for people with a strong family history of cancer. Click here for more information on genetic testing.

4. Practice safe sunning

Skin cancer rates are on the rise and sunscreen has been proven to reduce the risk of skin cancer. While people with fair skin may be more likely to develop skin cancer due to sun exposure, people with darker skin tones are at risk as well. Sunscreen protects against sunburn as well as harmful ultraviolet rays that can wreak havoc on your skin on cloudy, overcast or winter days when there is no sunshine. It’s good to use sunscreen every day – even durisafe sunningng the winter months.

Also avoid indoor tanning salons. Research has shown that exposure to UV radiation from indoor tanning devices is associated with an increased risk of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer. Even one indoor tanning session can increase users’ risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by 67% and basal cell carcinoma by 29%. [7]

 5. Limit your alcohol intake

Although moderate alcohol use has possible health benefits, it’s also not risk-free. Excessive alcohol use can cause liver damage, heart problems and increases your risk of breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, larynx and liver cancers. [8]

To reduce your lifetime risk of cancer: On average, men should not consume more than two drinks per day and women should not consume more than three drinks per week.

 6. Limit red and processed meats

Research shows that people who eat more red meat (beef, pork and lamb) and processed meats (like bacon, sausage, hot dogs and salami) have a higher risk of developing colorectal and prostate cancers. [9] Although there is not scientific consensus, the observed increased risk may be explained by high iron and fat content in red meat and/or the salt and nitrates in processed meat.

Need some red meat alternatives? Try some of our favorite cancer-fighting recipes tonight like Rainbow Salsa (with grilled fish or chicken) and Pumpkin Soup (with a Garlic, Kale and Sesame Topping).

7. Get moving every day

get moving every dayStudies conclusively show that exercise helps relieve stress, weight gain and reduces cancer- related risks. It can even help cancer survivors live longer! So get out there and dance, run, bike or walk. Exercising at a moderate intensity for at least 30 minutes every day has many benefits.

8. Schedule your screenings

Regular cancer screenings help with early detection and prevention. Screening tests include mammograms for breast cancer, colonoscopies for colorectal cancer, pap smears for cervical and uterine cancer, body checks for skin cancer and more. Talk to your doctor to see what screenings are appropriate for you given your family history, age and lifestyle choices. For more information on cancer screenings, please refer to our Cancer Detection Guidelines.

Preventative Cancer Research

The best way to reduce the number of patients dying from cancer is to prevent the disease from developing in the first place. That’s why NFCR-sponsored researchers have been investigating links between nutrition and cancer as well as drug development to prevent cancer for decades. 

dr siesScientist Dr. Helmut Sies¸ whose work was funded by NFCR, discovered the antioxidant lycopene, a micronutrient found in tomatoes and other foods. Lycopene has strong skin cancer prevention effects. Today, his research is focused on selenium, a trace metal found in certain foods that is essential for good health. There is evidence that selenium improves human health and helps prevent cancer – specifically colon cancer – and Dr. Sies has been researching the molecular basis for this.

*Prevention tip: Read how to add selenium to your diet


dr spornDr. Michael Sporn, whose work was supported by NFCR, is known as the “Father of Chemoprevention” because his research led to the development of several synthetic triterpenoid compounds, which are a new class of chemical agents with potent preventative effects against several types of cancer, including breast, lung and pancreatic cancers. For individuals with a family history or are otherwise at high risk of developing these diseases, the promising results of Dr. Sporn’s research offers hope that their chances of developing cancer may be dramatically reduced by the use of chemoprevention.

Read more