Colon cancer usually affects older adults above the age of 50; however, it can happen at any age. This cancer starts as small non-cancerous (benign) clumps of cells called polyps inside the colon. Over a while, these polyps can become colon cancers.
Screening can be done with either a sensitive test that looks for evidence of cancer in a person's feces (a stool-based test) or a colon and rectum exam (a visual exam).
Symptoms of Colon Cancer
Colon cancer can start with no symptoms, especially in the beginning stages. But, if you are experiencing symptoms at the early stages, they may include:
- Changes in your stool color
- Changes in your stool shape, such as narrowed stool
- Rectum bleeding
- Blood in your stool
- Too much gas
- Cramps in your abdomen
- Pain in your abdomen
If you notice any of these symptoms, get in touch with your doctor immediately to discuss getting a colorectal cancer screening.
Stage 3 or 4 symptoms (late-stage symptoms)
Symptoms of colon cancer become more noticeable in the late stages, like stages 3 and 4. Along with the symptoms mentioned above, you may also experience:
- Weight loss
- Changes in your stool lasting more than a month
- A feeling of un-empty bowels
Risk Factors of Colon Cancer
The risk of getting colon cancer may increase in these conditions:
- Old age: Even though colon cancer diagnosis is possible at any age, most people are older than 50.
- Race: People who are African-Americans have more risk of getting colon cancer than other races.
- Already diagnosed with colon cancer: If you had colon cancer in the past or non-cancerous colon polyps, there is a high chance that you may get colon cancer in the future.
- Conditions of inflammatory intestinal: Chronic inflammatory conditions of the colon, such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, increase your risk of colon cancer.
- Inherited syndromes: Gene mutations passed through generations of your family can increase your risk of colon cancer significantly.
- Family history of colon cancer: You have an increased risk of colon cancer if you have a blood relative who had the disease.
- Low-fiber, high-fat diet: People who have low fiber and high calories and fat diets show an increased risk of colon cancer. Studies have shown people who eat red meat are at an increased risk of colon cancer as well.
- Lifestyle: Inactive people develop colon cancer easily. Regular physical activity or exercise can minimize your risk of colon cancer.
- Diabetes: Diabetic or insulin-resistant people have more risk of developing colon cancer.
- Obesity: People who are obese have a higher risk of getting colon cancer. Treatment may also become less effective in such cases.
- Smoking and Alcohol: People who smoke have a risk of developing colon cancer. Increased consumption of alcohol increases your risk of colon cancer.
Colon Cancer Screening Guidelines
Early screening and diagnosis of colon cancer can lead to a cure.
Screenings are recommended for people above 50, whose 15-year risk of developing colon cancer is at least 3 percent. Share your medical and family history with your doctor, who would then conduct a physical exam. The doctor will press on your abdomen or conduct a rectal exam to determine if lumps or polyps are present.
In case if you are facing symptoms of colon cancer or have to experience with the disease. These tests are recommended now and then to keep yourself aware of your condition.
Blood tests will give you and your doctor a better idea of what is causing your symptoms. Liver function tests and blood counts can eliminate the chances of other diseases or disorders.
Fecal tests are used to find hidden blood in your stool. You may have to take fecal testing in every 1 or 2 years.
You can also opt for an X-ray, or your doctor may ask you to get one. X-ray is performed using a radioactive contrast solution containing a chemical called barium. Your doctor will put this liquid into your bowels using a barium enema. The barium solution will then coat the colon's lining, providing a better look at what might be in your colon.
A CT scan that is used to diagnose colon cancer is sometimes called a virtual colonoscopy. They provide your doctor with a detailed image of your colon.
Sigmoidoscopy is a minimally invasive test. It allows your doctor to assess your colon's last section, also known as a sigmoid colon, for any abnormalities. It is conducted using a flexible tube with a light on it. It is recommended to get a sigmoidoscopy every 10 years if you have any colon cancer chances or have past experience.
Colonoscopy is usually performed after less invasive tests have indicated that you might have colon cancer. It involves using a long tube with a small camera attached. A colonoscopy allows your doctor to see inside your colon and rectum to check for anything unusual. Get a colonoscopy every 10 years if you are at high risk for colon cancer.
Sigmoidoscopies and colonoscopies are the most effective screening tests for detecting benign growths that may develop into colorectal cancer.
Colonoscopy after the age of 50 is a good preventive measure. If it is detected at an early stage, colon cancer is treatable.
If detected early, most people live at least another 5 years after diagnosis. If your cancer doesn't return in that time, then there is a meager chance that it will happen again, especially in the early stages.