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Risk for cancer of the colon or rectum (colorectal cancer) in adulthood is higher for some survivors of childhood cancer than it is for people of the same age in the general population. Here's what you need to know to assess your risk and help prevent colorectal cancer.
Research has shown that people who were treated with moderate to high doses of radiation to the stomach, pelvis, or spine in childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood have a higher risk for colorectal cancer than people of the same age who never had radiation.
Other factors that increase risk include:
Risk for colorectal cancer begins to increase around 10 years after radiation.
People with colorectal cancer rarely have symptoms at first. This is why screening is so important. Symptoms may begin once the cancer is more advanced. See your doctor right away if you have any of these symptoms:
Your doctor will help figure out the root of these symptoms.
Although most people who received radiation won't develop colorectal cancer, it's still important to monitor your colon. If colorectal cancer is found early enough it can usually be cured. There are also healthy choices you can make to lower your risk.
Discuss Screening with Your Doctor
Check your treatment records to find out how much radiation you received for childhood cancer (see related Health Link: "Long-Term Follow-Up after Childhood Cancer").
If you received radiation to the stomach, pelvis, or spine at doses of 30 Gy (3000 cGy/rads) or higher, you should have a colonoscopy at least every 5 years starting at age 35 or 10 years after radiation (whichever occurs last). When calculating your radiation exposure, make sure to include any radiation from total body irradiation.
If you received less than 30 Gy (3000 cGy/rads), or if you had total body irradiation, you might still be at risk, but no studies have confirmed this. Talk with your doctor about when you should begin having colonoscopies.
Eat a Healthy Diet
To lower your risk for colorectal cancer, eat a variety of healthful foods with a focus on grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Be Physically Active
To lower colorectal cancer risk, try to get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking, on five or more days of the week. Getting 45 or more minutes of moderate to vigorous activity (such as running) on at least five days of the week may further lower your risk for colon cancer.