Sarah Cannon - March 02, 2015

March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month, dedicated to raising 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 Colon Cancer Alliance , on average, the lifetime risk of developing colon cancer is about one in 20 (5 percent), with close to two-thirds (about 72 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 . 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.

Symptoms of Colon Cancer

While in many cases, there are no symptoms with colon cancer, but certain symptoms can be warning signs that need to be evaluated. 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:

  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Diets high in meat and low in fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • Heavy alcohol intake
  • Physical inactivity

For more information about colon cancer, visit the Colon Cancer section on our website or the Colon Cancer Alliance website.

Want to learn more about Fight Colorectal Cancer? Find out more here .