Despite colon cancer being the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths, it is highly treatable when caught early in many cases. Fortunately, you can learn all about the warning signs and symptoms with an online search right now.
Colon cancer almost always develops from abnormal growths in the colon called precancerous polyps. There are a number of factors that put a person at greater risk of developing the disease, some of which you can alter.
Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of colon cancer vary. Early in the course of the disease, many people may have no symptoms at all.
As colon cancer progresses, early-stage signs and symptoms may manifest. This includes:
- Blood in your stool, which can be visible or not visible;
- Diarrhea or constipation;
- Changes in the caliber and/or consistency of your stool, and;
- Abdominal pain/discomfort, which may be accompanied by cramping, bloating, or gas.
Late-stage signs and symptoms of colon cancer may include:
- Unexplained weakness;
- Excess fatigue;
- Unexplained/unintentional weight loss;
- Feeling of incomplete emptying of your bowels, and;
- Nausea and vomiting.
Lastly, if colon cancer spreads, or metastasizes, to other parts of the body, the signs and symptoms may include:
- Shortness of breath;
- Swelling of the hands and feet;
- Headaches, which can be chronic, and;
- Unusual bone fractures.
There is a multitude of risk factors that may increase your chances of developing colon cancer. Some of these risk factors cannot be changed, while others can be.
The most common non-modifiable risk factor for colon cancer is advancing age. The American Cancer Society estimates that 90 percent of colon cancer diagnoses occur in individuals who are 50 or older. Some other non-modifiable risk factors are:
- Personal history of colon polyps, especially adenomatous polyps;
- Personal history of inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease;
- Family history of colon cancer, especially in a first-degree relative;
- Certain inherited genetic syndromes, such as familial adenomatous polyposis or Lynch syndrome, and;
- Jews of Eastern European descent or African Americans.
Some modifiable risk factors for colon cancer include:
- Overweight or obesity;
- Excessive alcohol consumption;
- Lack of regular physical activity, and;
- Low-fiber, high-fat diet.
Since most colon cancers develop from precancerous polyps, screening efforts to find them early are imperative. It is imperative because this is when the treatment works best.
Colon cancer screening does indeed save lives. In fact, almost 90 percent of individuals whose colon cancers are found early, localized, and treated fittingly are still alive five years after treatment.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends colon cancer screening commence at age 50 with strategies including:
- Stool Tests: Ones that are appropriate for colon cancer screening include the fecal occult blood test, fecal immunochemical test (FIT), and FIT-DNA (or stool DNA) test. They are typically repeated yearly if negative. The exception is the FIT-DNA test, which you should get every one to three years.
- Flexible Sigmoidoscopy: “Flex sig” for short. It uses a thin, flexible tube with a light source to check for colon polyps/cancer in the last two feet of the colon. It is repeated every five years — or every 10 years if combined with a FIT — if negative.
- Colonoscopy: Similar to a flex sig, except your doctor will visualize your entire colon. It is repeated every 10 years in individuals who do not have an increased risk of colon cancer. Currently, it is the preferred colon cancer screening method, as any encountered polyps can be removed. Plus, it is the follow-up test of choice for any abnormalities found during one of the other screening tests.
Lastly, other screening techniques include double-contrast barium enema or virtual colonoscopy. These may be repeated every five to 10 years or five years, respectively, if negative.
As far as colon cancer prevention or at least decreasing your risk, you should consider:
- A low-fat diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains;
- Regular exercise for at least 30 minutes, five or more times per week;
- Avoiding alcohol or at least limiting consumption;
- Avoiding tobacco use, and;
- Aspirin therapy.
When to See a Doctor
If you suspect you may be experiencing signs or symptoms of colon cancer, you should make an appointment with your doctor to discuss the matter. Furthermore, if you are at average risk for colon cancer, you should see your doctor for colon cancer screening commencing at age 50. This has the potential to become a prevention method, especially in the case of colonoscopy.
Lastly, if you suspect your risk for colon cancer has increased, you should discuss this with your doctor to determine when to begin screening, which test is appropriate for you, and how often to obtain screening.
Living with Colon Cancer
For some, there is a beginning and end to their colon cancer treatment. For others, their colon cancer never totally goes away. This leaves them with regular treatments to keep the cancer at bay.
Whether you are living with or after colon cancer, there are things you can do to reduce your risk of first-time or recurrent disease. This includes:
- Eating a Healthful Diet: Preferably a diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables, along with whole grains, plenty of chicken, and/or fish. This should provide the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants that are crucial in combatting colon cancer. Make sure there is little or no red meat.
- Exercising Regularly: Most experts agree that you should strive for a minimum of 30 minutes per day at least for times per week. Make sure to discuss with your doctor for an appropriate and realistic exercise prescription.
- Drinking Alcohol in Moderation If at All: It’s best to abstain from drinking alcohol with a diagnosis as serious colon cancer. However, if you choose to drink alcohol, try to limit your intake to no more than one drink per day for a woman and no more than two drinks per day for a man.
- Quitting Smoking: There are plenty of over the counter and prescription medications for smoking cessation that can be recommended by your doctor.
- Maintaining a Normal Weight: As you already know, there is a connection between being overweight or obese and some types of cancer, including colon cancer. Fortunately, all the above measures combined should result in the appropriate weight loss.
Learn More About Colon Cancer Today
Colon cancer can be fatal if not caught early. The best way to protect your health is to get informed and know the warning signs. Start a search today to learn more about colon cancer and talk to your doctor about your risk.