What is Colon Cancer?
Before discussing how to prevent it, we should begin with what colon cancer is. The colon is also called the large intestine and begins at the end of the small intestine. The first part, located in the right lower abdomen, is called the cecum. The colon then curves up the right side, across the top under the ribs, winds down along the left side of the belly, and eventually ends as the rectum. The terms 'colon cancer' and 'colorectal cancer' are used to describe cancer of any part of the colon.
We grow small lumps of tissue in our colon, called polyps, just as we grow skin tags on our skin. There are two types of polyps: ones that are benign and do not turn into cancer and those that are precancerous. It is the precancerous polyps that, over time, develop into cancer.
Colon cancer is the third-most-common cancer in the United States, but the good news is it's preventable! Here is a list of ways you can prevent colon cancer:
If you learn only one thing from this article, I hope it's this: Colonoscopies can prevent colon cancer. If you wait until you experience signs and symptoms of colon cancer, it means you likely already have a cancerous tumor, and it may be advanced and difficult to cure. During a colonoscopy, your doctor can easily find and remove precancerous polyps before they have the chance to turn into cancer.
Yes, it's a short list, but colonoscopy screening is truly the only way to prevent colon cancer.
Understanding your personal risk factors can help to determine when you should begin colonoscopy screenings, consequently reducing your risk for developing colon cancer.
5 Ways You Can Reduce Your Risk for Colon Cancer
- Let your doctor know if you have a family history of colon polyps or cancer. Cancer in close relatives, such as parents, brothers and sisters is most concerning, but cancer in distant relatives is also important to note. If multiple close relatives have a history of colon cancer, your risk is increased. It's also important to determine the age of relatives when they were diagnosed.
- Talk to your doctor if you have an inflammatory bowel disease called ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease. These conditions damage the colon over the years and increase your risk of developing colon cancer.
- More than 90 percent of people with colon cancer are diagnosed after age 50. Even if you don't have risk factors such as a family history of colon polyps or cancer, it's important to start getting colonoscopy screenings around your 50th birthday.
- Talk to your doctor if you have a personal history of polyps or cancer because your risk for future colon polyps or cancer is greater. Women with a history of cancer of the ovaries, uterus or breast are at a slightly higher risk of developing colon cancer.
- Maintain an overall healthy lifestyle. Further research is needed to better understand exactly how diet and lifestyle affect the likelihood of developing of colon cancer. To support good health, eat a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains to ensure you get adequate fiber, vitamins and nutrients. Limit your consumption of red meat, processed meats, and animal fats.
- Inactivity and obesity have been linked to a higher risk of colon cancer and countless other conditions and diseases. Strive to get at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise at least five days a week.
- If you drink alcohol, stick to the recommended one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. Smokers also are at increased risk of developing polyps and colon cancer.
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Signs and Symptoms You Should Have Checked
Preventative colonoscopy screenings are essential before any symptoms arise. If you experience any of the following signs or symptoms at any age, talk to your doctor.
- A change in your bowel habits that lasts for more than 2 weeks, including diarrhea or constipation or a change in the consistency of your stool
- Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
- Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain
- A feeling that your bowel never empties completely
- Weakness or fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
These symptoms can be caused by a multitude of conditions other than colon cancer, but it is important to accurately diagnose the cause. Of great concern is the fact that one of the most common "symptoms" of colon cancer is no symptoms at all.
Because it's so important, I'll repeat this one final time: Colonoscopies can prevent colon cancer. Protect your health and schedule your screening if you're due for a colonoscopy.
Learn more about Digestive Health
at UnityPoint Health – Meriter and what to expect during a colonoscopy.