With Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month approaching in March, now is the time to raise awareness about the disease, which is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in men and women combined in the United States.
According to the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, on average, the lifetime risk of developing colon cancer is about one in 23, with about 71 percent arising in the colon with the balance developing in the rectum.
While being over 50 years old increases your chance of colon cancer, the latest statistics have shown that the incidence of colon cancer is rising in those under the age of 50. In fact, American Cancer Society now recommends that colorectal cancer screening begin at age 45 for average risk adults; this was done to address the rising incidence of colorectal cancer in those under age 50.
This makes it even more important that people of all ages know the early signs that could indicate colon cancer, and discuss them with their physician.
“We are unfortunately seeing colorectal cancer develop in younger and younger patients,” says Dr. Saurin Chokshi, Investigator at the GI Cancer Research Program at Sarah Cannon Research Institute. “At this point, we do not fully understand the mechanisms behind this change; however research is being done here at Sarah Cannon and at other sites to look at contributing factors such as the health of our gut microbiomes, environmental exposures, and lifestyle habits. As colorectal cancer is no longer becoming a disease of the elderly, it is now more important than ever for our younger population to be aware of the early signs of disease as well as be mindful of lifestyle and dietary habits.”
Symptoms of Colon Cancer
While in many cases, there are no obvious symptoms with colon cancer, there are some that can be warning signs and should be discussed with your physician. These include:
- A change in bowel habits
- Blood in the stool that is either bright red, black or tarry
- Stools that are narrower than usual
- Diarrhea, constipation, or feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
- General abdominal discomfort, such as frequent gas pains, bloating, fullness and/or cramps
- Unexplained weight loss
- Constant feeling of fatigue or tiredness
Risk Factors for Colon Cancer
In addition to being aware of symptoms, you should discuss colon cancer screenings with your physician if you have any of the following risk factors:
- Having a personal history of colon or rectal cancer, adenomatous polyps, chronic inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease
- Having a strong family history of colon or rectal cancer, or polyps, especially a parent, sibling or child
- Being African American or Native American
Finally, be aware that certain lifestyle factors can also increase your risk for colon cancer:
- Diets high in meat and low in fruits, vegetables and whole grains
- Heavy alcohol intake
- Physical inactivity
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