Who is at risk for colon cancer?
Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer – a cancer type that includes the closely related colon and rectal cancers – is the third-most-common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the country. The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that more than 105,000 new colon cancer cases are diagnosed annually. That means that everyone needs to know the colon cancer symptoms for their own safety.
Watching out for colon and rectum cancers used to be an issue for older people. But with increased cancer instances in younger people, the ACS has lowered the recommended age to start getting annual screenings from age 50 to 45. Some people need to start receiving screenings even earlier, too.
“Especially if your immediate family has a history of colorectal cancer or you have polyps in your colon, you should begin screening at least 10 years earlier than normal,” said Dr. Omar Khokhar, a gastroenterologist at OSF HealthCare.
Why do I need to get tested for colon and rectal cancer?
“Colon and rectal cancers are especially dangerous because they can slowly develop over several years with subtle symptoms,” Dr. Khokhar said. “Most begin as a polyp. That’s why it’s important to get tested.”
Know your risk for colon cancer
Catching colon cancer early is important. When colon cancer is caught before it spreads to any other tissue, the survival rate is 91% for patients, according to the ACS. When the cancerous cells have spread to distant tissue, the survival rate drops to 14%.
Most common symptom of colon cancer
Medical conditions can impact people in different ways, so there is no single most common sign of colorectal cancer. Can blood in your stool be related to cancer? Yes, it can. Other colon cancer early warning signs include:
- Left side abdominal pain
If you experience these symptoms, please contact your health care provider right away.
What causes colon cancer?
Opinions vary on the reasons why people are being diagnosed at a younger age. Some epidemiologists believe that diet, too much red meat and obesity are to blame.
“While our digestive systems play a large part in our overall health, the phrase ‘you are what you eat’ was coined for a reason. Genetics seems to be the biggest indicator,” Dr. Khokhar said. “There are many gene abnormalities that get passed along from generation to generation that can trigger colon cancer.”
To be an active participant in your health, pay attention to the colorectal cancer risk factors you can control: Limit red meat, increase your daily servings of fruits and veggies and stay at a healthy weight. Keep an eye out for any changes in your bowel movements, too.
However, while managing your digestive health can profoundly affect your overall health, it’s still essential to be screened for colorectal cancer.
Other colon cancer risk factors
Several other factors have been associated with increased risk, too, including excessive alcohol use, physical inactivity and cigarette smoking.
People with a history of inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, also have a higher risk.
Screening tests for colorectal cancer
The gold standard in colorectal cancer screening tests is a colonoscopy. Colonoscopies allow physicians to view the entire colon and both detect and remove polyps – small clumps of cells that can develop into cancer – during the same procedure.
There are several other non-invasive tests and stool tests available by prescription for lower-risk patients. These tests can be done at home to detect issues like blood in the stool. Or genetic testing can identify DNA that may indicate cancer.
“If you see a change in bowel movements or experience any other colorectal cancer symptoms, talk to your doctor. I can’t stress this enough. Talk to your doctor and get tested,” Dr. Khokhar said. “No matter what the recommended method is for you, getting screened could be the difference between catching a colorectal issue early or waiting until it’s too late.”
Last Updated: August 30, 2022