• Emily Reul, PT, DPT

Colorectal Cancer & the Pelvic Floor

Hello friends! This week we are going to talk about that nasty “C word”—cancer. March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month so we are going to discuss all things colorectal and the pelvic floor. Many of the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer can mimic those of pelvic floor dysfunction. Additionally, many of the treatments for colorectal cancer can cause pelvic floor problems.

Colorectal cancer is the 2nd leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States (Goodman, 2009). The prognosis for colorectal cancers is highly linked to the stage in which it is found. This means that the earlier the cancer is found, the more likely treatments will be successful.

What Increases My Risk of Getting Colorectal Cancer? (Goodman, 2009)

  • Getting older

  • Family history of colorectal cancer

  • Diet low in fiber and high in animal fat and protein

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (Chron’s disease and ulcerative colitis)

  • Intestinal polyps

  • History of other cancers (especially breast and reproductive cancers in women)

  • Sedentary lifestyle

  • Compromised immune system

  • Smoking and alcohol consumption

How Can I Help Prevent Colorectal Cancer? (Goodman, 2009)

While all of the things above may increase your risk for colorectal cancer, there are some things you can do to help PREVENT it. This can include increasing the amount of physical activity you get—which can be as simple as adding a brisk walk to your schedule a few times per week. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 150 minutes of activity weekly.

Increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat is another good step to preventing colorectal cancer. This increases the amount of fiber you intake—which can help to prevent pelvic floor problems like constipation.

Getting enough calcium and vitamin D can also be beneficial in preventing colorectal cancer. Fish and dairy products can be great sources of vitamin D and calcium. The National Institutes of Health recommends adults get 1,000-1,300 mg of calcium each day depending upon age, gender, and whether or not you are breastfeeding. For vitamin D, it is recommended adults consume 15-20 mcg per day depending on age.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer? (Goodman, 2009)

While there are often very few signs of colorectal cancer early in the disease, many of these symptoms may sound similar to pelvic floor dysfunction. These symptoms include:

  • Bright red blood in stool or melena (dark, tarry stool)

  • Abdominal/stomach cramping

  • A feeling of needing to have a bowel movement that’s not relieved by having one

  • Changes in bowel habits that lasts more than a few days like persistent stomach pain, gas, diarrhea, or constipation *Remember, ideally your poop will be a 3, 4, or 5 on the Bristol Stool Scale