Colon cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death. It affects women and men with no discrimination. The lifetime risk of being diagnosed is about one in 20. Colon cancer usually develops slowly over 10 to 15 years, sometimes with no signs or symptoms associated with the disease.
Colon cancer starts in the colon, or large intestine. The colon is responsible for removing the fluid and nutrients from the food you eat, then pushing the remaining waste into the rectum where it can be expelled from the body.
Symptoms of colon cancer can be confusing. If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your primary physician:
▪ Change in bowel habits
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▪ Change in the appearance of the stool
▪ Bleeding from the rectum
▪ Blood in the stool or in the toilet after having a bowel movement
▪ Dark or black stool
▪ Cramping pain in the lower stomach
▪ A feeling of discomfort or an urge to have a bowel movement when there is no need to have one
▪ Unintentional weight loss
Keep in mind that many people who are diagnosed with colon cancer do not have any symptoms before their diagnosis. Don’t wait for symptoms to occur before getting screened for colon cancer if you are older than 50 or have a family history of the disease.
Here are some ways you can reduce your risk of colon cancer:
▪ Get screened regularly
▪ Maintain a healthy weight
▪ Adopt a physically active lifestyle
▪ Consume a healthy diet
Talk to your primary physician about ways to improve your diet and lifestyle to prevent colon cancer and about scheduling preventive screenings when necessary. During a colonoscopy, pre-cancerous polyps can be removed before they become cancerous, possibly saving your life.
Know your family’s cancer history. People with a parent, sibling or child with colon cancer are two or three times more likely to develop the disease compared to those with no family history. If the relative was diagnosed at a young age or if there is more than one relative who has been diagnosed, the risk increases to three to six times that of the general population. About 20 percent of those diagnosed with colon cancer have had a close relative with the disease.
Dr. Morris W. Beebe III is a gastroenterologist with Baptist Health Medical Group Gastroenterology and practices at Baptist Health Corbin.