What Do I Need To Know About Colon Cancer?


Colon cancer is a leading cause of cancer and of cancer deaths. It is the third leading cause of deaths in the US and the 2nd leading cause of cancer deaths. This doesn’t have to be the case. With proper screening and early detection, colon cancer is 90% preventable. It's important to have a basic understanding of colorectal cancer and its prevention. Below, we'll explore some of the basic facts you should know.

How Common is it?

Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer in men and women in the United States, behind skin and lung cancers. Each year, over 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with the condition. Sadly, an estimated 52,000 Americans will die from colon cancer this year. The lifetime risk of being diagnosed with colon cancer is 1 in 20. Colon cancer is a major health concern. The American Cancer Society has launched massive awareness campaigns to educate at-risk populations about getting screened in order to reduce the rates of diagnosis and death of colon cancer.

How Does it Start?

Before cancer occurs, precancerous polyps develop. These polyps, which lie on the walls of the colon or rectum, aren't cancerous, but have the potential to become cancerous later on. Once cancer starts to develop, it usually develops slowly, over the course of a decade or longer. Colonoscopy, the most effective and complete screening, has the ability to remove polyps during the procedure and cut the risk of them developing further into colon cancer.

Who's at Risk?

Certain groups have a higher risk of colorectal cancer. These groups should be screened more frequently, and should consider making lifestyle changes to help lower their risk. Risk factors include:

  • Age over 50
  • African-American ethnicity • Obesity
  • Diet low in fiber and high in fat
  • Lack of exercise
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Inflammatory bowel disease, like Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis
  • Family history of colon cancer
  • Personal history of colon cancer or polyps

Is it Preventable? Colorectal cancer is preventable. When polyps are detected early, they can be removed before they become cancerous. In addition, people in high-risk groups can make lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet and exercising. On top of prevention, colon cancer is most treatable when caught early. If colon cancer is caught in the earliest stages (Stage 1), when it is most easily treated and removed, the prognosis is best – 90% of these cases will survive 5 years or more. As colon cancer spreads, the survival rates decline, making early detection the vital component of survival.

What are the Symptoms?

Patients with colorectal cancer may experiences changes in their bowel habits, discomfort, or blood in the stool. These symptoms are all significant and warrant investigation by a professional. However, the majority of cases are asymptomatic, meaning that cancer colon cancer can be progressing without ever producing any symptoms. Some symptoms of colon cancer can be symptoms of other digestive health issues. For example, blood in the stool may be a symptom of colon cancer or hemorrhoids, but neither of these should be left to the individual for diagnosis. An examination by a board-certified gastroenterologist will provide concrete answers to the cause of symptoms and a course of action for any treatments.

How is it Screened?

People who are at an elevated risk for colorectal cancer should be screened regularly. For most people, screening starts at age 50, but your doctor may recommend earlier, more frequent screening in some cases. The colonoscopy is the most effective screening tool, and should be performed every 10 years starting at age 50 (earlier for some). During a colonoscopy, the doctor can detect and possibly remove any polyps, as well as take a biopsy of any abnormal growths in the colon. A sigmoidoscopy should be performed every 5 years. A fecal occult blood test should be performed each year.

To schedule your routine colorectal cancer screening, please contact the physicians with GI Alliance today.