Excluding skin cancers, colon cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in the United States. That means it is important to know the signs and symptoms, which include:
• A change in your bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation or a change in the consistency of your stool, that lasts longer than four weeks
• Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
• Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain
• A feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely
• Weakness or fatigue
• Unexplained weight loss
Protecting yourself from colon cancer will require you to do more than just search for symptoms, though. Many people with colon cancer actually have no symptoms at all during early stages, which is why it is important to be screened. Typically, it is recommended that screening begin at age 50, but your doctor may recommend earlier or more frequent screenings based on other risk factors.
Risk factors for colon cancer include:
Age – the majority of people diagnosed with colon cancer are older than 50.
Race – African-Americans have a greater risk of colon cancer than people of other races.
Personal history – If you’ve already had colon cancer or adenomatous polyps, you have a greater risk of colon cancer.
Family history – You’re more likely to develop colon cancer if you have a parent, sibling or child with the disease.
Inflammatory intestinal conditions – Chronic inflammatory disease can increase your risk of colon cancer.
Sedentary lifestyles – Physical activity can reduce your risk of colon cancer.
During the month of March, we encourage you to evaluate your own risk for colon cancer and – if you have any of the symptoms or risk factors outlined here – to talk to your doctor about receiving a colon cancer screening.