Although colon cancer (or colorectal cancer) is most common in adults over the age of 50, there are certain risk factors that may require you to begin testing at an earlier age or more frequently in order to protect from potentially cancerous polyps.
You may be at risk if:
- You formerly were diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
- You have a parent, brother, sister or child who has had an adenomatous polyp or colorectal cancer. If so, experts recommend you begin screening before age 50 or when you are 10 years younger than your relative at their age of diagnosis.
- You have had an adenomatous polyp removed from your colon in the past.
- You have an inflammatory bowel disease (i.e. ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease).
- You have had radiation treatments on your pelvis or abdomen.
As mentioned, the age at which you begin screening and the frequency with which you have testing done depends on your health, age and your risk factors. Consult your doctor if you believe you may be at risk for colon cancer.
Colon cancer often produces subtle or no symptoms and once symptoms do begin, it is often too late to cure. However, the disease is preventable if routine tests are performed. Unfortunately, the tests are known to be uncomfortable and many adults avoid the regular screenings that could save their life. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the following testing options so that you can choose which type you’ll need and the frequency with which it should be done.
Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) – A lab uses a stool sample to test for traces of blood too small to see. In order to prepare for the test, certain foods and medicines are restricted several days prior to when the sample is provided. This test should be preformed annually or as directed by a doctor.
Sigmoidoscopy – A lighted viewing scope (sigmoidoscope) is used to inspect the colon. During this procedure, the doctor can remove any small growths that may have developed as well as collect tissue samples that can be used for testing. Because of the equipment needed for the procedure, a sigmoidoscopy must be done in a hospital or doctor’s office. A laxative or enema is used as preparation for the test. A sigmoidoscopy should be preformed every five years or as directed by a doctor.
Colonoscopy – A long, flexible, lighted viewing scope (colonoscope) is used to screen for cancer, investigate symptoms and collect tissue samples. Patients are asked to prepare for their colonoscopy by taking laxatives. In order to put the patient at ease and relieve pain, they are given a medicine that causes drowsiness. The procedure is completed in 30 to 45 minutes after which a pathologist can analyze the tissue sample and come back with test results. This test should be preformed every ten years or as directed by a doctor.
Since colon cancer occurs more commonly in adults over 50 years of age, it is important to begin screening at 50 and then continue regular screening. However, some people may have an increased risk of colon cancer because of health and/or genetics, in which case a doctor may recommend earlier or more frequent screenings. Talk with your doctor to decide when to begin screening and what type of screening is best for you.
What is colon cancer?
Colon cancer is the number two killer of both men and women in the United States and colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer affecting approximately 150,000 people each year. Although colon cancer has taken and affected the lives of so many, it is preventable and highly curable if caught and treated early on. With the necessary knowledge and preventative care, you can protect yourself from the disease.
The environment in the inner lining of the colon and rectum, also known as the colorectal tube, is conducive for the development of small tumors, called polyps. About one quarter of all adults over the age of 50 living in the U.S. will develop at least one colorectal polyp. Although most polyps are benign and can be removed, they can be precancerous. When the polyp is left untreated, the tumor can grow and the cancer can spread throughout the body.
Several warning signs that can help with early detection include:
- Changes in bowel movements such as diarrhea, constipation, a feeling of not being able to completely empty the bowel, frequent bowel movements, rectal bleeding or rectal cramping
- Unusual stool that is dark in color, bloody or long and thin (“pencil stools”)
- Unexplained fatigue, anemia, extreme and sudden weight loss and/or loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain or bloating
- Pelvic discomfort (can indicate an advanced stage of the disease)
Since colorectal cancer can produce subtle or no symptoms, it often goes undetected. With an increased risk of colon cancer after the age of 50 and few warning signs, it is crucial that adults have regular colorectal screenings for prevention. If you have questions regarding the disease, symptoms or treatment, please consult your doctor.
Source 1, Source 2