Colon cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in both men and women in the United States. It’s also a highly treatable form of cancer when it is caught in its earliest stages. To ensure that proper screenings are conducted when necessary, it is important for everyone to have a basic understanding of this disease and the warning signs and risk factors to watch out for.
Colorectal cancers are known to involve rather slow development over time. They start out quite often as small noncancerous cells known as polyps. Over time, these polyps can change and create problems. Since polyps typically present without any symptoms, it’s important for people to undergo routine screenings for their presence. Colonoscopy is the basic screening that is used. In most cases, this type of screening won’t begin until middle age, but for those with a history of colon cancer or polyps in their families, screenings may begin sooner.
If colon cancer does develop, there are a number of symptoms that can signal its presence. They include:
* Bloody stool
* The presence of gas
* Changes in bowel habits
* Cramping in the stomach that is consistent and repetitive
* Abdominal pain
Again, screening for colorectal cancer won’t begin for most people until they are in their 50s. Those with certain risk factors, however, might have physicians request screenings that begin sooner. Some of the risk factors for colon cancer, beyond age, include:
* Family or personal history
* Inherited syndromes
* Inflammatory intestinal conditions
* Leading a sedentary lifestyle
* History of heavy alcohol use
* Having undergone radiation therapy for other forms of cancer
Colorectal cancer is slow-growing and is generally quite treatable if it’s caught in its earliest stages. To ensure the best possible outcomes, it’s important for those who are at risk to undergo routine screening for the disease. If a diagnosis is positive, your doctor can help you explore all the potential treatment options for this condition. Treatments may include surgery, targeted drug therapy, chemotherapy, radiation, or a combination of several types of therapy. The best possible option for treatment depends on the type of colorectal cancer present and the stage to which it has advanced. Your doctor will go over all the details with you.