Colon cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the United States among all cancers affecting both sexes. Find out how to prevent it.

Prevent colon cancer with screening.
Everyone is at risk for colon cancer.

The statistics are frightening, but there is some good news: It is estimated that six out of ten deaths from colon cancer are preventable if we screen everyone before they turn 50. When it is detected early, colon cancer is up to 90% curable.

Who is at risk for colon cancer?

Simply put, everyone is at risk for colon cancer. Colon cancer occurs most often in men and women age 50 and older, though 10-20% of cases occur in people under 50.

Colon cancer usually starts from polyps in the colon or rectum. Timely screenings save lives, because screenings find those polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. Screening tests also find colon cancer early, when it is most treatable.

It is important that you know your risk, no matter your age, because some people may be at higher risk for the disease than others.

You may be at higher risk if:

  • You are 45 or older and you have a personal history of:
    • Colon cancer
    • Colon or rectal polyps
    • Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis)
  • You have a family history of:
    • Colon cancer
    • Colon or rectal polyps
    • Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
    • Hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer
    • Other cancers

If you don’t know your family history, talk with relatives about your family’s health history soon. If you feel like you might be at risk, talk with your doctor about having a test.

What are the symptoms of colon cancer?

While there are some symptoms that could signify some serious issues, you should not wait for symptoms to occur before getting screened. That’s because early colon cancer often has no symptoms.

If there are symptoms, they may include:

  • Rectal bleeding
  • Blood in the stool or in the toilet after having a bowel movement
  • A change in your bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation
  • Cramping or pain in the lower stomach
  • Losing weight and you do not know why
  • Anemia (low blood count)

Most colon cancer develops over time. A growth of abnormal tissue, called a polyp, forms on the lining of the colon. These usually start as non-cancerous (benign) polyps, but over time some change to be malignant, or cancerous. There are two types of polyps:

  1. Adenomatous polyps – polyps that can change into cancer, a pre-cancerous condition
  2. Hyperplastic polyps and inflammatory polyps – polyps that are non-cancerous

Many physicians believe that hyperplastic polyps could turn into pre-cancerous polyps or that those who have hyperplastic polyps have a greater risk of developing adenomatous polyps, especially when they are found in the ascending colon.

What kinds of colon cancer tests are available?

Colon cancer can be prevented with screening by a doctor.
The colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, and virtual colonoscopy allow doctors to check for polyps and cancer.

If you or your doctor think you should be tested, there are a couple of options available to you – there are stool-based screening tests that can be done at home (such as a FIT test or a Cologuard test), or there are colon tests done by a doctor.

There are also tests of the colon, such as the colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, and virtual colonoscopy. These tests allow doctors to check for polyps and cancer. The colonoscopy is the only test that allows the doctor to check inside the entire colon and remove polyps. If you do the stool-based screening test and it comes back positive, you will require further testing.