American Heart MonthColon cancer, a term that often brings a sense of unease, is more than just a medical condition—it's a reality that affects countless individuals and families. This type of cancer, while common, holds a silver lining—it's largely preventable. 

At Prima CARE, our top priority is caring for the health of our patients and their families. As part of this commitment, in recognition of National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month we believe it’s important to provide our patients with information and education about colon cancer. 

Read on to learn more about colon cancer and what you can do to prevent it.

1. What Is Colon Cancer?

Colon cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, refers to cancers that affect the rectum and colon. This kind of cancer is usually caused by the growth of polyps, or small masses of cells, in this area. At first, these polyps are small and noncancerous, but they can develop into colon cancer cells and grow into rectal cancer or affect the sigmoid colon. When these polyps go unnoticed and untreated, they can grow and become cancerous tumors. If the cancer has spread, it becomes more challenging to treat.

According to the CDC:

  • Colon cancer is the third most common cancer for both men and women.
  • Colon cancer is also the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States.
  • More than 50,000 Americans are said to die from colon cancer each year, or 140 every day.

2. Does Colon Cancer Have Symptoms?

People with colon cancer often do not experience any symptoms until their cancer has progressed to later stages. However, symptoms such as change in bowel habits or bleeding from the rectum can be a sign of developing colorectal cancer. Even then, these symptoms may not be recognizable as colon cancer due to their overlap with common occurrences and other gastrointestinal issues, like ulcers and hemorrhoids. That said, here are some symptoms and signs of colon cancer:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Unexplained fatigue or weakness
  • Unexplained or unintentional weight loss
  • Decreased appetite
  • Persistent cramps, lower back pain, or bloating
  • Change in bowel habits
  • Bleeding from the rectum or blood in stool

If you notice these symptoms, especially if more than one symptom is present, contact your doctor.

3. What Are The Colon Cancer Risk Factors?

The average risk of developing colon cancer is 4% to 5%, though many elements can increase this risk, such as:

  • Age. People 50 years of age and older make up the majority of colon cancer cases.
  • Race. People of all races and ethnicities are at risk of developing colon cancer, but Black Americans are at an increased risk.
  • Alcohol. Heavy alcohol use (defined as more than two drinks per day for men and more than one for women) increases a person’s risk of developing colon cancer.
  • Tobacco. Smokers are at an increased risk of developing many cancers, including colon cancer.
  • Diet. People who eat a lot of red and processed meat are at a higher risk, especially if they also eat fewer fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Inactivity. People who have a sedentary lifestyle are at a higher risk.
  • Obesity. People who are obese are 30% more likely to develop colon cancer than people who are not obese.
  • Family History. Having an immediate family member who had colon cancer or polyps increases a person’s risk by 2 to 3 times.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease. People with ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease are also at an increased risk.

4. How Can I Prevent Colon Cancer?

As previously mentioned, though colon cancer is common and dangerous, it’s also preventable. Avoiding tobacco and heavy alcohol use, eating a diet high in fiber while low in red or processed meats, getting to or maintaining a healthy weight, and staying active are all great ways to reduce your risk of colon cancer (as well as other health issues). That said, the best and most effective way to prevent colon cancer is through colorectal cancer screening/ colon cancer screening.

Because treatment is significantly more effective in earlier stages, early detection of polyps or colon cancer can save a person’s life. It’s recommended that all average-risk people should have their first screening as early as age 45, though those at increased risk should consult their doctor to see when it is right for them. Unfortunately, around 20% of older adults have never been screened for colon cancer despite recommendations. Colon cancer treatment may involve surgery, targeted therapy, or chemotherapy, depending on the stage and spread of the cancer.

Prima CARE: Your Partner in Health

Colon cancer doesn't have to be a daunting diagnosis—with the right knowledge and proactive steps, it's a challenge that can be effectively addressed.

At Prima CARE, we're dedicated to guiding you through your healthcare journey with expertise and compassion. Our team of specialists is equipped with the knowledge and technology to provide top-notch care and support, particularly in the prevention and treatment of colon cancer. We believe in a patient-centered approach, where your health and well-being are our utmost priorities.

Don’t be part of the 20 percent! This National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, make sure you’re up to date with your screenings. If you’re 45 years of age or older, or if it’s been 10 or more years since your last colonoscopy, it’s time to schedule an appointment with your doctor at Prima CARE.

Frequently Asked Questions

What resources does the National Cancer Institute offer for colon cancer patients?

The National Cancer Institute provides comprehensive information on colon cancer, including research updates, treatment options, and support resources. They offer detailed guides on understanding your diagnosis, treatment choices, and tips for managing side effects.

Is radiation therapy a common treatment for colon cancer?

Yes, radiation therapy is often used in the treatment of colon cancer, particularly in stages where the cancer has not spread extensively. It's usually combined with other treatments like surgery and chemotherapy to improve effectiveness.

What should I know about stage II colon cancer?

In stage II colon cancer, the cancer has grown into or through the wall of the colon but hasn't spread to nearby lymph nodes. Treatment often involves surgery to remove the tumor and a portion of the surrounding colon. Additional treatments, including chemotherapy, may be recommended based on individual risk factors.

How is stage III colon cancer treated?

Stage III colon cancer is characterized by cancer spread to nearby lymph nodes but not to distant parts of the body. Treatment typically includes surgery to remove the cancer and affected lymph nodes, followed by chemotherapy. The specifics of treatment may vary based on the exact location and spread of cancer within the colon.

How is colorectal cancer diagnosed?

Colorectal cancer, also called colon cancer, is typically diagnosed through a colonoscopy, where a doctor examines the inside of the colon using a camera. If suspicious areas are found, a biopsy is performed. Other diagnostic methods include CT scans, MRIs, and stool tests for hidden blood or DNA associated with cancer.