Colon cancer affects men and women of all racial and ethnic groups, and is most often found in people 50 years or older. It is the third most common cancer in the United States, behind only lung and prostate cancers in men and lung and breast cancers in women.
However, if everyone 50 years or older had a regular screening test, then as many as 80% of deaths from colon cancer could be prevented.
Screening tests detect precancerous polyps and allows them to be removed before turning into cancer. Screening also helps find colon cancer at an early stage, when treatment often leads to a cure.
- Colon cancer is the second leading cause of all cancer-related deaths in the U.S.
- On average, your risk is about 1 in 20, although this varies widely according to individual risk factors.
- 90% of new cases occur in people 50 or older.
- People with a first-degree relative (parent, sibling or offspring) who has colon cancer have 2 to 3 times the risk of developing the disease.
- Most colon cancers develop first as colorectal polyps, which are abnormal growths inside the colon or rectum that may later become cancerous.
Symptoms may include:
- A change in your bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation or a change in the consistency of your stool
- Feeling that your bowel does not empty completely, rectal bleeding, or finding blood (either bright red or very dark) in your stool
- Finding your stools are narrower than usual
- Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas, pain, or feeling full or bloated
- Losing weight with no known reason
- Weakness or fatigue
- Having nausea or vomiting
These symptoms can also be associated with many other health conditions. Only your doctor can determine why you’re having these symptoms. Usually, early cancer does not cause pain. It is important not to wait to feel pain before seeing a doctor.
- All men and women should be screened for colon cancer beginning at age 50, if not earlier.
- People with personal or family history of colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, or are experiencing symptoms are considered “high risk” and should begin screening before age 50.
- African Americans should begin screening at the age of 45.
If you’re turning 50 or are experiencing abnormal symptoms, make an appointment today to get screened. and tell your loved ones to do the same.
When choosing a screening method, remember that each test has its advantages and disadvantages. We encourage you to talk to your doctor and educate yourself on the effectiveness, costs, and risks in order to select the best method for you.
The majority of colon cancer patients do not have a family history or genetic connection to the disease. This is when the cancer occurs by chance, and is often called “sporadic cancer.”
However, in some families, we see more cancer than we would expect. About one in four patients have a family history of colon cancer that could suggest a genetic and/or hereditary factor.
If you have a family history, you may need to be screened at age 40, or 10 years before the youngest case in your immediate family, whichever is earlier.
Take the quiz to see if you’re at risk.