According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. But with new methods for early detection, the five-year survival rate for this type of cancer has steadily increased. This March, improve your awareness of colon cancer by learning about symptoms of the disease to watch for and lifestyle factors that increase your risk for developing the disease.
Colon Cancer Symptoms
Many cases of colon cancer present with no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. Symptoms that could indicate an issue and warrant urgent medical attention include:
-A change in bowel habits that persists beyond four weeks, including unusual constipation, diarrhea, or change in consistency.
-Blood in the stool, fatigue, weakness and/or unexplained weight loss.
-Chronic abdominal discomfort, including gas, cramps, or a bloated or "full" feeling.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, talk with your doctor.
Because this disease is easier to treat in its earliest stages, screening is recommended to detect colon cancer even before it begins to show symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that regular colorectal cancer screenings begin at age 50 for most people. There are a number of screening methods used to detect the presence of cancerous cells in the colon or rectum. These include:
-An annual high-sensitivity fecal occult blood test (FOBT).
-Flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years combined with FOBT every three years.
-Colonoscopy every ten years.
For most people, screening can be discontinued at age 75. Your doctor can help recommend the screening modality and frequency that's right for you.
Controlling Risk Factors
While some risk factors for colon cancer such as family history and race can't be controlled, making certain lifestyle changes can decrease your risk. Colon cancer is more common among individuals who:
-Have had colorectal cancer or polyps in the past.
-Have a chronic intestinal condition like ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease.
-Eat a diet that's high in fat and low in fiber.
-Rarely exercise, have diabetes, are obese, drink alcohol heavily or smoke.
If you're concerned about your colon cancer risk, making changes to these risk factors is one way to stay healthy. Quit smoking, limit your alcohol use, make sure you get enough exercise and eat more fiber, while limiting fats, sweets and red meat.
Your doctor can help you navigate your colon cancer risk and recommend a course of treatment if you are diagnosed with the disease.