How to Know if You Have Colon Cancer
Colon cancer is a serious disease that affects millions of people worldwide. According to the American Cancer Society, it is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States, with over 149,000 new cases expected to be diagnosed in 2022 alone (1).
While colon cancer can be a scary topic, the good news is that it is highly treatable when caught early. The key to early detection is knowing the signs and symptoms of colon cancer and being proactive about getting screened. In this article, we will discuss the symptoms of colon cancer, risk factors, and how to get screened. We will also cover diagnosis, prevention, and treatment options for those who have been diagnosed with colon cancer.
Table of Contents
- What is Colon Cancer?
- Risk Factors for Colon Cancer
- Signs and Symptoms of Colon Cancer
- Diagnosing Colon Cancer
- Preventing Colon Cancer
- Treating Colon Cancer
What is Colon Cancer?
Colon cancer is a type of cancer that affects the large intestine, which is the lower part of the digestive system. It usually starts as small, noncancerous clumps of cells called polyps that form on the inner lining of the colon. Over time, some of these polyps can become cancerous.
Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women in the United States. It is also one of the most treatable cancers when caught early.
Risk Factors for Colon Cancer
There are several risk factors that can increase your chances of developing colon cancer:
- Age 50 or older
- A family history of colon cancer
- A personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- A sedentary lifestyle and poor diet
- Heavy alcohol use
Signs and Symptoms of Colon Cancer
Colon cancer often doesn’t cause symptoms in its early stages, which is why regular screening is so important. However, as the cancer progresses, you may experience the following:
- Changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrow stools
- Blood in your stool
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- A feeling that your bowel doesn’t completely empty
- Unexplained weight loss
If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor right away. However, it’s also important to note that many of these symptoms can be caused by other conditions as well, so a proper diagnosis is necessary to determine the cause.
Diagnosing Colon Cancer
Colon cancer can be detected through several different tests and procedures:
- Colonoscopy: This is the most effective way to detect colon cancer. During a colonoscopy, a doctor uses a flexible tube with a camera on the end to examine the inside of the colon and rectum.
- Fecal occult blood test (FOBT): This test checks for hidden blood in the stool, which can be a sign of colon cancer. It is recommended that people over age 50 have this test once a year.
- Sigmoidoscopy: Similar to a colonoscopy, but only examines the lower portion of the colon.
- CT colonography: This test uses a CT scanner to create detailed images of the colon and rectum.
- Double-contrast barium enema: This involves filling the colon with a contrast material and taking X-rays to create images of the colon.
If a suspicious polyp or tumor is found during a screening test, a biopsy may be done to determine if it is cancerous. If colon cancer is diagnosed, further tests may be needed to determine the extent of the cancer and the best course of treatment.
Preventing Colon Cancer
While there is no sure way to prevent colon cancer, there are steps you can take to lower your risk:
- Get screened: Regular screening can detect colon cancer in its early stages, when it is most treatable.
- Eat a healthy diet: A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can lower your risk of colon cancer.
- Exercise regularly: Physical activity can lower your risk of colon cancer.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese increases your risk of colon cancer.
- Avoid smoking and heavy alcohol use: Both smoking and heavy alcohol use are risk factors for colon cancer.
Treating Colon Cancer
Treatment for colon cancer depends on the stage of the cancer and other factors, such as your age and overall health. Treatment options may include:
- Surgery: This is the most common treatment for colon cancer. It involves removing the cancerous portion of the colon.
- Chemotherapy: This treatment uses drugs to kill cancer cells throughout the body.
- Radiation therapy: This treatment uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells.
- Targeted therapy: This treatment uses drugs to target specific proteins or other factors that allow cancer cells to grow.
Your doctor will discuss your treatment options with you and help you make an informed decision about your care.
Colon cancer is a serious disease, but with regular screening and early detection, it is also highly treatable. Knowing the signs and symptoms of colon cancer, as well as the risk factors, can help you take steps to lower your risk and catch the cancer in its early stages. If you are experiencing any symptoms or have concerns about your risk for colon cancer, talk to your doctor about getting screened. By taking care of your health and being proactive about prevention and detection, you can help protect yourself from this disease.