Colon cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers for both men and women in the United States. It is important that you understand your risk for developing this disease, as well as lifestyle changes you can make now to reduce your chances of falling victim to colon cancer.
Cancer of the large intestine, or colon, typically begins as small clumps of cells called adenomatous polyps. Often, these small polyps form in your colon and produce few, if any, symptoms. If they are not removed, they may eventually become cancerous. This is why physicians recommend routine screening to identify and remove polyps before they become a problem.
One of the best ways to prevent death from colon cancer is to have regular screenings. Because more than 90% of all colorectal cancers are found in people who are 50 and older, the American Cancer Society recommends that you start getting routine colon screenings at age 50. If you have a family history of this disease, your physician may recommend that you start screening earlier.
Three of the most common screenings for colon cancer include a stool test, flexible sigmoidoscopy, and colonoscopy. Your physician will make recommendations for how often you should have these tests administered.
Aside from age, there are some other risk factors that may make you more susceptible to developing colon cancer. The Mayo Clinic highlights the following factors:
- African-Americans have a higher risk for developing this disease than people of other races
- Family history
- Parents, siblings, and children of a person diagnosed with colon cancer are at a higher risk than the average person of developing the disease themselves.
- Personal history of polyps or cancer
- Inflammatory intestinal conditions
- Two of the most common conditions are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
- High fat, low fiber diet
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Heavy use of alcohol
While some of these risk factors, like race and age, cannot be changed, there are some lifestyle alterations that you can make to reduce your chance of developing this type of cancer. Keep in mind that just because you have one or more of these risks, it does not mean you will develop colon cancer. You should talk with your physician about these risk factors so that he or she can provide adequate screening and give you suggestions for a healthy lifestyle.
Many people exhibit few, if any, symptoms of colon cancer in the early stages of the disease. As it progresses, patients may notice unexplained weight loss, persistent abdominal discomfort, a change in their bowel habits, rectal bleeding, blood in their stool, weakness, or excessive fatigue. The only way to truly know if you have colon cancer is through screenings and tests administered by your physician.
The good news is that colorectal cancer is often highly treatable. The key to survival is identifying and removing polyps early, before they turn into cancer. Those patients, whose cancer is discovered early, before it has spread, have a very high 5-year survival rate. With more awareness about colon cancer screenings, the death rate from this disease continues to decline.
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