Cancer of the colon and rectum is the third leading cause of cancer in men and the fourth leading cause in women and is more commonly seen in the western industrialized world.
Risk factors can include: age (50 years and older), family history of colon cancer, a high fat diet, smoking, and excessive alcohol intake. Most colon cancers begin from polyps in the colon which usually start out as benign, but after time can become malignant. Therefore, timely diagnosis and removal of the polyp can help to prevent the development of colon cancer, and thereby significantly decrease the mortality of this mostly preventative cancer.
A colonoscopy exam is the current best method for detecting colon polyps. During this same procedure, the doctor can easily remove the polyp. Colonoscopy is essentially painless, is an outpatient procedure, and is a small price to pay for the possible early detection of colon cancer.
The more common symptoms of colon cancer include rectal bleeding and/or blood in the stool, a change in bowel habits, a feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely, weakness or fatigue, and unexplained weight loss. Any of these symptoms should get you to see your doctor as soon as possible.
Your doctor will most likely do a rectal exam (don’t be shy, as this is very important), perform a rapid chemical test of a sample of your stool to check for blood, take a blood sample to check for anemia, and most likely schedule a colonoscopy exam.
Surgery is the most common treatment for colon cancer. Chemotherapy and radiation are also often used depending on the extent and location of the cancer.
The bottom line is that colon cancer, if diagnosed early enough, has a very favorable prognosis. If found too late after it has metastasized (spread) to other organs, it has a much poorer survival rate.
Talk to your doctor about colon cancer screening with colonoscopy and check with your health insurer about what is covered. You should begin screening if you are 50 years old or older, or if you are younger and have a family history of colon cancer.
See your doctor if you have any of the above mentioned symptoms, and if you do, don’t settle for anything less than a colonoscopy exam. Denial or delay can be a matter of life or death.