American Heart MonthAt 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(opens in a new tab), we believe it’s important to provide our patients with information and education about colon cancer. This form of cancer is relatively common and potentially deadly, but perhaps most importantly, it’s also preventable.

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

  1. 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, and typically, a person with polyps won’t experience any symptoms. However, when these polyps go unnoticed and untreated, they can grow and become cancerous tumors.

    According to the CDC(opens in a new tab):

    • 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. 2. Does Colon Cancer Have Symptoms?

    People with colon cancer often do not experience any symptoms until their cancer has progressed to later stages. 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. 3. Am I At Risk For Colon Cancer?

    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. 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 screenings.

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.

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.