Signs, Symptoms & Risk Factors
Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States. And while it does have a high survival rate when caught early, this can be difficult as it may take years before a polyp develops into a tumor. As a precaution therefore, regular screening, especially after the age of 50, is the best way to detect the colon polyps early on and get treated for it.
There are several known lifestyle habits as well as genetic and other health factors that have been proven to increase your risk of acquiring the disease. A knowledge of these risks and taking proper care can not only help to prevent colon cancer but also lead a long healthy life.
Age: While people of any age are susceptible to colorectal cancer, once you hit age 50 your changes are much greater, which is why regular screening is so important for older men and women.
Diet: A diet high in fat – especially animal fat – has been noted by researchers to substantially increase the risk of colorectal cancer. On the other hand, a diet rich in fruits, green vegetables and whole grains helps to clean out the colon as well as keep you in overall good health.
History of cancer or polyps: Even if your previous incidence of colon cancer was completely removed, you still have the chance of getting cancer on other parts of the colon or rectum – especially if you acquired colon cancer the first time before age 60. Also, a person who had adenomatous colon polyps has a higher risk of getting colon cancer in the future, especially if the polyps are in very large numbers. The modern techniques of colonoscopy, however has made the process of detection and removal of these polyps much simpler than before.
Bowel diseases: If you have a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease the threat of colon cancer is slightly increased. This is because these diseases cause prolonged inflammation of the colon, which can induce the development of polyps and tumors. That is why is it a good idea to start being screened for colon cancer 8 to 12 years after being diagnosed with an IBD, and continue to do so on a regular basis.
Family History: If someone in your family has had colorectal cancer, it is a good idea to get screened, since due to certain environmental factors and genetic susceptibility, your chances of acquiring the disease increase significantly. If the family member with the disease got it at an age before 60 the risk becomes greater and you should be careful to note any sign of colon cancer.
Inheritance: Inherited colorectal cancer syndrome is the cause of colon cancer in about 3-5% cases. This is called hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer or lynch syndrome, and people with the syndrome generally have hundreds of polyps already present in their body at a young age. This may also be responsible for cancer of ovaries, endometrium, kidney, uterus and other organs.
Lack of exercise and obesity: A sedentary, inactive life may increase the risk of developing colon cancer - and the same goes for people who are obese.
Smoking: It has been shown that smokers have a 30-40% greater chance of acquiring colon cancer than non- smokers.
n Cancer Symptoms
It is important to note that the symptoms of colon cancer are also associated with many other kinds of diseases and infections. It is often difficult to detect colon cancer before it reaches more advanced stages, and the tumor is prominent. However, some of the symptoms you should be aware of are:
- Constipation. When a tumor develops inside your colon, it may obstruct the path of solid waste passing into the rectum and therefore you may feel constipated. Of course, this usually will only occur when the tumor is already at an advanced stage.
- Narrowing of the stool. As the tumor of the cancer start growing and obstructing the path of the solid waste, there is much less space for the stool to pass and thus the effect is a thinning or narrowing of the stool. If this continues for a few days you should visit a doctor.
- Stomach cramps. The constipation or diarrhea may result in abdominal pain or stomach cramps. In advanced stages, the cramping may also occur due to the tumor pushing against the bowel walls and resulting in discomfort.
- Unexplained weight loss. Some people may experience a sudden weight loss not attributed to physical strain or a disease. And while there may be many reasons for this, the presence of a colon tumor is one possibility.
- Fatigue. The constant feeling of tiredness even though you have received proper rest may be a sign of colon cancer.
- Blood in the stool. The presence of blood, even in very small amounts, in the stool is a dangerous sign. The blood could be due to bleeding of the tumor. Your doctor will likely perform a fecal occult blood test to test for this, as many times the blood itself will not be visible.
- Feeling the need to have a bowel movement but are unable to do so. This may be a sign of a tumor in the colon especially in the lower end or the rectum.
- Anemia. When the colon tumor is in the right colon, which is more spacious than the left colon, it may grow faster and bleed for many years before you realize its presence. This leads to loss of red blood cells which can in turn cause anemia.
- Vomiting and gas. Nausea, vomiting and gas are also common symptoms as the tumor obstructing the colon and rectum may trap air and cause irregular bowel movements.
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms you should talk to your health care professional about the possibility of colon cancer. And remember that regular screening is the key of ensuring cancer won’t conquer your life.