The Colorectal Cancer Alliance reports that the lifetime risk of developing colon cancer, on average, is about one in 23, with about 71 percent arising in the colon and developing in the rectum.
Colon cancer typically affects older adults, but the incidence of colon cancer is rising up to 3% annually for people under the age of 50. The cancer usually begins as small, noncancerous clumps, also known as polyps, inside the colon. Over time, some of the polyps can become cancerous. Polyps may be small and produce few, if any, symptoms. Therefore, doctors recommend regular screening tests to help prevent serious intervention by identifying and removing the polyps before they turn cancerous.
“Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States,” says Patti Simmers, MSN/Ed, RN, OCN and Oncology Nurse Navigator at MountainView Hospital. “Most colon cancer patients report having no symptoms prior to their diagnosis.”
Many cases have shown there are no obvious symptoms for colon cancer, but there are warning signs and symptoms you can look out for:
- A change in bowel habits
- Blood (either bright red or very dark) in the stool
- Diarrhea, constipation, or feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
- Frequent gas pains, bloating, fullness, or cramps
- Unintentional weight loss.
- Feeling very tired and weak.
In addition to the warning signs and symptoms, Patti shares the top seven lifestyle factors that may increase your risk for colon cancer:
- Aging: the risk for polyps increase as we age, especially over the age of 50
- A family history of polyps or of colon cancer
- A high fat diet consisting of red meat, processed meat and fat
- Alcohol consumption
- Precancerous colon polyps (adenomas)
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms or follow any risky lifestyle factors, it may mean it’s time to visit your physician and talk about the possibility of getting screened for colon cancer.
“Screening is done every 10 years for those with average risk and can be done more often if the individual has a past history of polyps or a family member with a history of colon cancer,” says Patti. “The American Cancer Society recommends that those with average risk and no family history of colon cancer, begin screening at the age of 45 and continue screening until age 75.”
If you are unsure about your symptoms and health, Patti encourages you ask the following questions when visiting a physician:
- What are the symptoms of colon cancer?
- When should I start screening for colorectal cancer?
- How often should I get screened?
There are various ways to get screened, however the most common and best way to detect colon cancer is through a colonoscopy. Stool-based tests can look for signs of cancer in a patient’s stool. CT colonography can look at the inside of the colon and rectum to check for polyps or cancer.
Though a small percent of the population has a genetic predisposition to developing cancer, if you have a family member with a history of cancer, you should get genetic counseling to help determine your risk of developing the disease. There are also measures you can take to reduce your risk of colon cancer.
“Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is very important,” explains Patti. “Eat a healthy diet high in vegetables, fruits, lean meats, etc., exercise a minimum of 150 hours a week, decrease alcohol consumption, and lead a smoke-free lifestyle.”
If you or a loved one have questions about how to spot early symptoms of colon cancer, call askSARAH at (844) 482-4812. To find a physician to schedule an appointment with, the 24 hour Consult-a-Nurse hotline is available at (702) 962-5021.