Everything You Need to Know About Colon Cancer
Colon cancer affects both men and women and is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Learning about the early symptoms of colon cancer is undoubtedly important knowledge; however, colon cancer doesn’t often show warning signs until after it has begun to progress. This makes screening and early detection two things that should be on the mind of every patient who is 45 years of age or older. Early detection and screening has saved countless lives when it comes to colorectal cancer. Read on to learn more about colon cancer screening, early warning signs, and risk factors and behavioral management so you can help prevent the deadly disease.
Why Is Screening for Colon Cancer Important?
Screening and early detection for any disease are invaluable, but it’s especially important when it comes to colorectal cancer. In 2018, the American Cancer Society lowered the screening guidelines from age 50 to age 45 because of the prevalence of cases in younger patients. Catching colon cancer early can certainly make a difference. If colorectal cancer is discovered in its first stages, patients have a 90% five-year survival rate. If detected in later stages, that number drops to 12%.
Colonoscopy is the gold standard for colon cancer detection. Not only is it a useful tool to discover cancerous and precancerous polyps (which are the precursors to colorectal cancer), the colonoscope can also remove them during the procedure. In other words, if your doctor sees polyps that he or she is worried about, they can be instantly removed on the spot.
Early Warning Signs for Colorectal Cancer
Colon cancer signs are rather ambiguous, and for many patients, colorectal cancer symptoms can seem like a flu, a virus, or another form of mild gastrointestinal upset. One of the earliest signs for colon cancer is an abrupt change in bowel habits. This means different things for different patients. For some, it could be the sudden development of constipation or trouble moving bowels. For others, it can manifest as diarrhea and even bowel incontinence.
Other signs of colon cancer include blood in the stool, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain or cramping, fatigue, or sudden weight loss. Other than the discovery of blood in the stool, most of these symptoms are not alarming, so patients may put off letting their physician know they’re experiencing them. One of the most important things to consider is duration. If you’re experiencing bowel-related symptoms for more than a week or so, it’s time to call the doctor.
Can I Prevent Colon Cancer?
Scientists and researchers are still not 100% sure about all of the causes of colon cancer, but there are strong correlations, especially when it comes to genetics and some behaviors. It’s true that you can’t change your genetics–but you can be aware of them. Let your doctor know if anyone in your immediate family has had colon cancer, polyps, or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Also, if you or a close family member have inherited syndromes like Lynch syndrome, your doctor should know. Those of Ashkenazi Jewish and African-American descent have higher predispositions to colon cancer.
When it comes to risk factors you can change, there are a handful. For prevention of colorectal cancer, doctors strongly recommend:
- Curtailing drinking
- Quitting smoking
- Avoiding red and processed meats
- Keeping your BMI in normal ranges
- Not leading a sedentary lifestyle
- Avoiding fats and sugars
- Eating a healthy diet full of leafy greens and fiber
- Keeping up with yearly screenings
It is also important to note that if you do meet genetic risk factors (such as having a first-degree relative with colorectal cancer), you may want to schedule an earlier screening with your doctor. If you are high risk, it’s likely you can qualify for a screening before the age of 45.
If you need more information on colon cancer, are experiencing GI upset, or would like to schedule a screening, request an appointment at Gastroenterology Consultants of Savannah, PC. We offer six separate office locations for your convenience.