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Assessing Your Colon Cancer Risk



It’s important to get in the habit of having regular colonoscopies if you’re age 50 or older, or earlier if you have a family history of colon cancer. Especially when you consider that colon cancer is more than 90 percent treatable if caught early. 

Avoid colorectal cancer

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates that about 146,970 new cases and 49,920 deaths are expected annually. About 72 percent of cases arise in the colon and about 28 percent in the rectum.

The good news is that the odds of beating colorectal cancer go up significantly with early detection. Over 90 percent of those diagnosed when the cancer is found at a local stage (confined to the colon or rectum) survive more than five years.

Are you at risk?
About 90 percent of colorectal cancers occur in people over age 50. In addition to age, other factors that may put you at risk include:

  • A personal or family history of colorectal polyps (abnormal growths on the wall of the colon) or cancer
  • A low-fiber, high-fat diet
  • Excess weight
  • An inactive lifestyle
  • Long-standing diseases involving the colon, such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis
  • Certain hereditary conditions that can result in colon cancers at a relatively young age


A slow-growing disease
Colorectal cancers generally are not fast growing. They may occur anywhere along the lengthy wall of your large intestine. Most have their beginnings as a tiny polyp that develops on the inner lining of the colon wall. The smaller the polyp, the less likely it is to be cancerous. Polyps rarely produce any symptoms, so it's important to check for problems with screening tests instead of waiting for symptoms to appear.

Signs and symptoms
Often, signs and symptoms of colon cancer don't occur until the late stages of the disease. See your doctor if any of the following occur and last more than two weeks:

  • A change in bowel habits (diarrhea, constipation, etc.)
  • Bleeding from your rectum or blood in your stool
  • Abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain
  • A feeling that your bowel doesn't completely empty
  • Sudden, unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Constantly feeling tired


What's best for you
Complications from colorectal cancer can be reduced or even prevented with the simple step of regular screening. The American Cancer Society states that people who have no identified risk factors (other than age) should begin regular screening at age 50. Those who have a family history or other risk factors for colorectal polyps or cancer (see below) should talk with their doctor about starting screening at a younger age and/or getting screened more frequently.
Talk to your doctor about which colon cancer screening program is right for you.

For colon cancer screening, the Colon Cancer Prevention Project recommends the following:

  Average Risk Moderate Risk High Risk
 Family History
  • No history of colon cancer in your family
  • No history of colon polyps in your family
  • No history of ovarian or uterine cancer in your family
  • History of colon cancer or colon polyps
  • History of ovarian or uterine cancer in a first degree relative before age 50
  • First degree relative with a history of colon, uterine or ovarian cancer
  • Family history of polyposis
 Personal History
  • Age 50 and over
  • No history of colon polyps
  • No history of ovarian/endometrial cancer
  • No history of ulcerative colitis
  • No history of Crohn’s Disease
  • Over age 50
  • Previous history of colon polyps or cancer
  • History of ulcerative colitis for less than 10 years
  • History of Crohn’s Disease for less than 10 years
  • History of multiple polyps – more than 3
  • Previous history of colon cancer
  • History of ulcerative colitis for greater than 10 years
  • History of Crohn’s Disease for greater than 10 years
 Recommendations
  • Yearly Fecal Occult Blood Testing starting at age 40
  • Complete colon evaluation every 10 years starting at age 50 (includes tests such as colonoscopy of sigmoidoscopy with barium enema, which visualizes the inside of the colon in order to detect polyps or cancer.)
  • Start colon evaluations 5-10 years before the age of the affected family member’s diagnosis
  • Yearly Fecal Occult Blood Testing starting now
  • Complete colon evaluation every 3-5 years (includes tests such as colonoscopy of sigmoidoscopy with barium enema, which visualizes the inside of the colon in order to detect polyps or cancer.)
  • Start colon evaluation 5-10 years before the age of the affected family member’s diagnosis
  • Yearly Fecal Occult Blood Testing starting now
  • Complete colon evaluation every 1-3 years (includes tests such as colonoscopy of sigmoidoscopy with barium enema, which visualizes the inside of the colon in order to detect polyps or cancer.)



The Baptist Louisville Cancer Resource Center offers a wealth of information on cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis and treatment. The Cancer Resource Center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. To reach the center, call (502) 896-3009 or FAX (502) 896-3010. The Cancer Resource Center is a service of the Baptist Louisville Cancer Center.

Learn more about colorectal cancers and their treatment.