Colon cancer is cancer of the large intestine (colon), the lower part of your digestive system. Rectal cancer is located in the last several inches of the colon. Together, they're often referred to as colorectal cancers. In the United States colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in men and women and the second leading cause of death from cancer.
Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors
It is not clear what causes colon cancer in most cases. Colon cancer usually starts from polyps in the colon or rectum. A polyp is a growth that shouldn’t be there. Over time, polyps can turn into cancer. Many risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing colon polyps.
- People over the age of 50.
- People with a family history of colon cancer and polyps.
- African-American race have a greater risk of colon cancer.
- Lifestyle choices also contribute to colon polyp development. People who smoke, drink excessive amounts of alcohol, eat fatty foods and are overweight are at increased risk, as are people who do not exercise.
To find out if you may be at risk for colon cancer, please take our free, 7-minute colon cancer health risk assessment.
Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer
Many people with colon cancer experience no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. Colon cancer can be present for several years before symptoms develop. When symptoms appear, they vary, depending on the cancer’s size and location in your large intestines. Some of the symptoms that might appear are:
- Blood in your stool (bowel movement).
- Persistent change in bowel habits.
- Stomach pains that do not go away.
- Losing weight and you do not know why.
If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor. These signs and symptoms may be caused by something other than cancer. However, the only way to know what is causing them is to see your doctor.
Types of Screening Tests
Screening tests can find precancerous polyps, so that they can be removed before they turn into cancer. Screening tests can also find colorectal cancer early, when treatment works best. All have benefits and drawbacks to consider as you make your decision. You should talk to your physician about which one is right for you.
Fecal occult blood test is a test to check stool for blood. Small samples of stool are placed on special cards and returned to the doctor or laboratory for testing. Blood in the stool may be a sign of polyps or cancer.
Sigmoidoscopy is a procedure which utilizes a thin, tube like instrument to look inside the rectum and lower colon for polyps, abnormal areas, or cancer.
Colonoscopy is a procedure which utilizes a thin, tube-like instrument to look inside the rectum and entire colon for polyps, abnormal areas, or cancer.
When Should I Begin to Get Screened?
The most effective way to reduce your risk for colorectal cancer is to have regular screening tests beginning at age 50 and continue to be screened at regular intervals. However, you may need to be tested earlier than 50 or more often than other people if:
- You or a close relative have had colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer.
- You have inflammatory bowel disease.
- You have genetic syndromes such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer.
Speak with your doctor about when you should begin screening and how often you should be screened. The bottom line is colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the United States, but it doesn’t have to be. If you’re 50 or older, talk with your doctor about getting screened.