March is colorectal cancer awareness month. Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. About 90 percent of cases occur in people aged 50 or older. And on average, the risk of developing colon cancer is about 1 in 20. However, this may vary depending on individual risk factors. Early detection is key. With regular screening, colon cancer can be found early. This is when treatment is most effective.
The signs and symptoms of colon cancer include abnormal bowel habits (i.e. constipation, diarrhea, or a change in the consistency of your stool), rectal bleeding or bloody stool, continuous abdominal pain, the feeling of incomplete emptying of bowel, weakness or fatigue, and unexplained weight loss.
Risk factors for Colorectal Cancer:
· Age 50 and over (90% of new cases occur in people ages 50 and over)
· Inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis
· People with an immediate family member with a history of colon cancer have 2-3 times the risk of developing colon cancer
· African-Americans have a 20% higher risk of developing colon cancer and a 45% higher mortality rate
· Lifestyle factors – Physical inactivity, a diet low in fruits, vegetables, fiber and high in fat, being overweight or obese, alcohol and tobacco use
Stages of colon cancer:
· Stage I: Cancer has grown through the superficial lining of the colon or rectum but hasn't spread beyond the colon wall or rectum.
· Stage II: Cancer has grown into or through the wall of the colon or rectum but hasn't spread to nearby lymph nodes.
· Stage III: Cancer has invaded nearby lymph nodes but isn't affecting other parts of the body yet.
· Stage IV: Cancer has spread to distant sites, such as other organs.
Colon cancer can be found early with regular screenings. With screening and early detection, colon cancer can even be prevented. If the cancer is found early enough when it is confined to the colon or rectum, over 90 percent of patients survive more than five years. Treatment is also most effective with early diagnosis.
Treatment for colon cancer includes surgery for early-stage colon cancer, surgery for invasive colon cancer, surgery for advanced cancer, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or targeted drug therapy.
The best way to reduce your risk for colon cancer is to get screened regularly. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people start screening for colon cancer at age 50. Screening includes using high-sensitivity fecal occult blood testing, a sigmoidoscopy, or a colonoscopy. Screening should continue until age 75.