Colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon or rectum and is slightly less common in women than it is in men. In fact, the disease is the third leading cause of cancer death for men and women. Fortunately, colon cancer can be successfully treated when detected early.
It is best to receive a screening test before you have any symptoms. For many people, colon cancer presents without symptoms. However, some symptoms should not be ignored:
- Bleeding from rectum or blood in or on stool
- Change in bowel habits
- Stools that are more narrow than usual
- Abdominal pain, bloating, fullness and cramps
- Diarrhea, constipation or feeling that bowel movement is not complete
- Weight loss
- Fatigue at all times
Contact your doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.
The most common risk factor for developing colon cancer is age. Beginning at age 45, the risk increases for men and women; therefore, regular screenings are recommended for those age 45 and older.
However, some people may have an increased risk due to:
- Genetic predisposition—one or more first-degree relatives with colon cancer or polyps, or two or more second-degree relatives with colon cancer.
- History of inflammatory bowel disease, particularly a history greater than eight to 10 years.
Other risk factors include: obesity, diabetes, smoking, lack of physical activity, drinking alcohol in excess, and processed meat (such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and cold cuts).
Screenings and treatment
Routine screenings can greatly decrease and prevent your chances for developing colon cancer. Consult your physician about the different types of screenings, how often they should be scheduled and which is best for you.
Colonoscopy is the most effective type of colon cancer screening. If a colonoscopy is undergone early enough, premalignant polyps may be removed. This substantially reduces the risk of developing colon cancer.
Chemotherapy or radiation therapy may be used as treatment depending on where the cancer is located or how much it has progressed.
Surgical removal is the mainstay of therapy.
Fortunately, you can help reduce your risk of developing colon cancer by being physically active; maintaining a healthy weight; not smoking; drinking alcohol in moderation; eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains; and consuming less processed meats.