Concerned about colon cancer
Concerning Your Health
By Dr. Douglas Berglund
Who should be concerned about getting colon cancer?
Colorectal cancer ranks second in leading causes of death from cancer. This cancer affects men and women equally and the risk increases with age. Because early stages of colorectal cancer are usually not accompanied by symptoms, colorectal screenings are important. If everyone age 50 and older had regular screening tests, at least 60 percent of colorectal cancer deaths could be avoided.
What is the difference between colon cancer and colorectal cancer?
Cancer in the lower part of your colon, or digestive system, is colon cancer. Rectal cancer is cancer in the last several inches of the colon. Together, they are called colorectal cancer.
How does colon cancer begin?
Small, noncancerous clumps of cells form polyps in or on the colon. Sometimes, these polyps turn into colon cancers. Early detection and polyp removal, which is painless and takes only minutes, results in a cure rate greater than 90 percent.
Who should be screened?
Generally, colon cancer screenings are recommended beginning at age 50. If you have a family history or other risk factors, you should begin having screenings earlier. Several different screening tests can be used to find polyps or colorectal cancer. Ask your physician what test is the right choice for you and how often you should be tested.
Who is at risk?
People who are older than 50, have family members who have had polyps or colon cancer or who are African American are at higher risk. Medical conditions such as personal history of polyps or previous colon cancer, inflammatory intestinal conditions such as colitis and Crohn’s disease, diabetes or a history of radiation therapy for cancer can all be contributing factors for colon cancer.
How can I decrease my risk?
Lifestyle choices such as smoking, heavy use of alcohol, a sedentary lifestyle, a high fat, low fiber diet and being obese also increase your risks. So don’t smoke, limit alcohol intake, exercise at least 30 minutes five or more days of the week and concentrate on eating fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, seeds, nuts and lean proteins. Getting adequate calcium, Vitamin D, selenium and folic acid also reduces your risk.
What symptoms might indicate colon cancer?
Symptoms include: rectal bleeding or blood in your stool; diarrhea or constipation or ongoing changes in your bowel habits or stool consistency; persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain; feeling fullness or a sensation that your bowel isn’t emptying completely; weakness and fatigue; and unexplained weight loss.
When should I see a physician?
See a physician if you have any of these symptoms or if you are age 50 older and have not yet had a screening. Many people avoid this topic because they are embarrassed to talk about it. But more than 90 percent of colorectal cancers can be prevented if people take an active role in their health care. So don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor.
Douglas Berglund, MD, is a colorectal surgeon at Sanford Health. He is board certified by the American Board of Surgery and the American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgery. He has special medical interests in diseases of the colon and rectum and is skilled in endoscopy and laparoscopy.