What is colon cancer?

Colon cancer is a form of cancer originating from the large intestine, namely the colon.

What are symptoms?

Symptoms can include abdominal pain, change in bowel habits, blood in the stool, anemia (low blood levels) or possibly no symptoms at all.

What are risk factors?

The biggest risk factor is increasing age. At least 90% of colon cancer is diagnosed in people over 50 years or older. Lifestyle risk factors include activity sedentary lifestyle, low fruit and vegetable intake, a diet low in fiber and high in fat, being overweight or obese, alcohol use and smoking. Other risks for colorectal cancer include a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, family history of or hereditary colon cancers. If you have a family history of colon cancer or colon polyps you should discuss this with your doctor as you may have an increased risk for colon cancer.

How common is it?

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States. It is found equally in males and females. In females, it is the third most common cancer following behind breast cancer and lung cancer.

Can it be prevented?

Colon cancer can largely be prevented by doing routine screening to detect and remove pre-cancerous polyps. Polyps are small clumps of cells that can grow on the lining of the colon wall. Most of these polyps are benign but over time they can grow and turn into cancer. By removing these polyps early cancer can be prevented. Routine screening can also find cancer in earlier stages where treatments can be curative.

When should I screen?

Colon cancer screening starts at age 50 with regular screening intervals until the age of 75. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer you may need to start sooner than age 50 and may need shorter screening intervals.

How do I get screened?

Gastroenterologists are physician specialists that perform colon cancer screenings with a procedure called a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is a procedure in which a small flexible tube with a camera at the end is inserted into the large intestine to visualize the lining of the colon and look for colon polyps. If a polyp is detected, it can be removed during the procedure eliminating the risk of future growth.

If you are 50 years old and have not had a colon cancer screening, talk with your gastroenterologist to find out how to get started or click here  to make an appointment.