As of 2019, colon cancer is the second most deadly cancer in both men and women, and it’s estimated that 1 in 20 people will be diagnosed with the disease in their lifetime. Colon cancer can unfortunately spread quickly while patients experience very few symptoms; this makes regular screening an important and vital part of every patient’s yearly checkup goals at age 45 and after. Read on to learn about early colorectal cancer symptoms, ways to prevent it, and what to do post-diagnosis.
Early Warning Signs of Colorectal Cancer
Symptoms of colon cancer are not always noticeable and may manifest as what patients think is just mild GI upset. One of the earliest signs for colon cancer is a significant change in bowel habits. This means that a patient could suddenly be constipated regularly, or they could experience frequent diarrhea suddenly. Both constipation and diarrhea are early signs; they just wouldn’t appear concurrently. Other changes in bowel habits that may be noticeable include blood in the stool, or bowel incontinence.
Beyond changes in bowel habits, there are some other early warning colon cancer signs to note, such as unexplained anemia, extreme and frequent fatigue, unintended weight loss, and other GI problems such as vomiting, nausea, or abdominal pain and cramping. Even if you’re only experiencing one or several of the above symptoms, if they persist, it’s wise to inform your physician about your symptoms and make an appointment. If colorectal cancer is caught early, it has a much better chance of being treated.
Can I Prevent Colon Cancer?
Many risk factors contribute to whether a patient may be diagnosed with colon cancer, and some of them are behavioral in nature. First, there are a few things that are simply out of your control, such as your genetics. Those of Ashkenazi Jewish or African-American descent have a greater risk of colorectal cancer, as well as those with a history of inherited syndromes, such as Lynch syndrome. What patients can do, however, is to be well aware of their family history and inform their physician of any first-degree relatives who have had colon cancer, polyps, or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Being overweight/obese, smoking, drinking, and leading a sedentary lifestyle are all strongly linked to colon cancer development. Patients are advised to eat a diet full of fiber and leafy greens, exercise regularly, quit smoking, and curtail drinking. Red and processed meat consumption is also linked with colon cancer development, especially in women.
Is Colon Cancer Treatable?
Colon cancer is much harder to treat when it progresses to the later stages. Colon cancer diagnosed in stage I has a 90% survival rate, while stage III and IV have only a 12 percent survival rate. This is why it’s so important to know the early signs of colon cancer and to schedule regular screenings. The American Cancer Society suggests that every adult 45 and over schedule a colonoscopy with their provider.
Colonoscopy is the gold standard of colon cancer detection, but is also an effective way to prevent colon cancer. Colon cancer begins as polyps, which can appear both in the colon and rectum (thus, the term colorectal cancer). As the doctor uses the colonoscopy to detect cancerous or precancerous polyps, he or she may will also remove any polyps. This is in part why scheduling your colonoscopy is so important. Early detection truly saves lives. If you need more information about colon cancer signs and symptoms, need to speak with a physician, or want to schedule a screening for colonoscopy, request an appointment at GI Associates & Endoscopy Center today. We offer three convenient locations as well as pediatric services.