Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in the United States. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms described in this article, it is best to talk to your doctor. It could be nothing, but it is worth the peace of mind by getting checked out.
The National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommends starting regular screening at age 50. Learn more about colorectal cancer screenings from UnityPoint Health – St. Luke’s Hospital.
It’s important to first understand risk factors. Many lifestyle-related factors have been linked to colon cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, the links between diet, weight and exercise and colon cancer risk are some of the strongest for any type of cancer.
There is evidence that colon cancer is hereditary. According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 3 people who develop colon cancer have other family members who have had it. If you have a family history of adenomatous polyps or colon cancer, talk with your doctor about the possible need to start screening before age 50.
The Nassif Community Cancer Center Genetics and Risk Assessment Clinic provides individual counseling, risk assessment, genetic testing and surveillance to anyone identified as having an increased risk of cancer. Click here to learn more.
Your risk for colon cancer increases as you age. Younger adults can get it, but it’s much more common after age 50.
Being overweight or obese
Obesity raises the risk of colon cancer in both men and women, but the link seems to be stronger in men.
People who don’t exercise are more likely to develop colon cancer than those who exercise. People who don’t exercise are more likely to develop colon cancer than those who exercise.
A diet heavy in red and/or processed meats raises your colorectal cancer risk. It’s not clear if other dietary components, such as types of fats, affect colorectal cancer risk.
Smoking is a well-known cause of lung cancer, but it’s linked to a lot of other cancers, too, such as colon cancer. Learn about UnityPoint Health – St. Luke’s tobacco cessation services if you smoke and want to know more about quitting.
Heavy alcohol use
Colon cancer has been linked to moderate to heavy alcohol consumption. Limiting consumption to no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women could have many health benefits, including a lower risk of many kinds of cancer.
Hear From Our Experts
Dr. Douglas Purdy, gastroenterologist at St. Luke’s Gastroenterology, joins Dr. Arnold to discuss colon cancer signs and symptoms, the importance of screening, how to reduce your risk and more.
Don’t Ignore these Signs and Symptoms of Colon Cancer
- Blood in stools
If you find blood on or mixed in with your stools, this could be a sign that you have colon cancer. Your doctor will send a stool sample for a laboratory analysis called a fecal occult blood test.
- Changes in stools
Stools are very dark in color, or even black and sticky, then this could be caused by bleeding due to colon cancer.
- Rectal bleeding
Blood is usually bright red and it can be found in the toilet bowl water or on toilet paper.
- Trouble passing stool
Changes in passing of stools is a symptom of colon cancer. You may experience a feeling of completely passing a stool or you may feel the urgent need to have a bowel movement, and then you realize that there is no stool to be passed.
Anemia is a shortage of red blood cells in the blood. It can happen from blood loss from colon cancer. Symptoms of anemia are feeling tired a lot of the time, weak and short of breath. Your skin may also look pale.
- Abdominal pain
A certain amount of abdominal discomfort is a normal experience at times. However, if you often suffer from gas, cramping and bloating, then you could be more likely to develop colon cancer.
- Weight loss
Even if you have a normal diet, colon cancer can result in weight loss. Alternatively, you may experience complete loss in appetite.
Constipation lasting more than a few days can be associated with colon cancer. Chronic or ongoing constipation may even increase your risk of developing colon cancer.
Persistent diarrhea is often symptom of a colon cancer.
- Nausea and vomiting
Persistent nausea and vomiting for no apparent reason may be a symptom of colon cancer.
Colon and rectal cancers are some of the most preventable cancers if caught early. If you suspect something is wrong, see your doctor as early detection is the best prevention.