Am I at risk for colon cancer?
Risk factors include the following:
- Age: Most colorectal cancers occur after age 50
- History of Cancer: Colon polyps or cancer, rectal cancer, ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer, or breast cancer
- Inflammatory bowel disorder (IBD)
- Genetic Conditions: Familiar Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP) and Lynch Syndrome, also known as hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC)
- Family History: If you or a family member has had colorectal cancer, colonoscopy screening is typically recommended ten years before the survivor's age of diagnosis
Talk with your doctor if you have risk factors for colorectal cancer. Together, you can determine when and how frequently to start getting colonoscopies.
Sometimes, colorectal cancer may not show any signs or symptoms at all, which is why screening is so important. However, there are symptoms that you should bring to your doctor’s attention right away.
- Change in bowel habits
- Narrow stools
- Blood in the stool
- Rectal bleeding
- Frequent gas pain, bloating, or fullness
- Abdominal cramps
- Unexplained weight loss
- Fatigue and weakness
What do I do if I have symptoms of colorectal cancer?
Talk to your doctor. Together you can decide if your risk factors and/or symptoms suggest that an individualized screening plan is right for you. If you are over the age of 50, plan on having a colonoscopy regularly. Screenings may include:
- Flexible Sigmoidoscopy: A light and camera at the end of a thin, flexible tube are used to look inside the rectum and sigmoid colon (the last part of the large bowel). Sigmoidoscopy is a quicker procedure than colonoscopy because less of the colon is examined.
- Colonoscopy: A light and camera at the end of a thin, flexible tube (scope) are used to look inside the rectum and colon.
- EGD with Colonoscopy: An EGD, or upper endoscopy, uses a scope inserted via the mouth to inspect the esophagus, stomach and small intestines. During the colonoscopy, a scope is placed via the rectum to look inside the large intestine, rectum and colon.
What can I do to prevent colon cancer?
Besides regular screenings and knowing your risk, you can adapt your lifestyle to limit your risk for developing colorectal cancer.
- Be active! Low physical activity and obesity can contribute to your risk
- Limit red meat, processed meat, and fats
- Quit smoking
- Get to or keep a healthy body weight
- Minimize body fat, especially belly fat
- Drink in moderation
Some research suggests you can further reduce your risk by including certain things in your diet:
- Eat more dietary fiber
- Eat more garlic
- Drink milk if your body tolerates it
- Get plenty of calcium