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|
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.