Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. Fortunately, colon cancer is preventable thanks to advances in early detection. Learning colon cancer symptoms and risk factors can play an important role in helping you lower your risk of developing colorectal cancer.
As a family nurse practitioner specializing in gastroenterology, I work with patients suffering from bowel disorders and those at risk for colon cancer.
Colon Cancer Symptoms and Risk Factors:
When it comes to colon cancer, patients without family history or symptoms of the disease often believe they’re not at risk. Truth is, each of us face a 1 in 24 risk of developing colon cancer during our lifetimes. So what exactly are the risk factors of colon cancer? A traditional, highly inflammatory western diet seems to be one of the biggest risk factors facing Americans, as is smoking. Those with a family history of colon cancer or a personal history of GI problems like inflammatory bowel disease or Celiac disease are also are at increased risk.
Common symptoms of colon cancer are changes in bowel habits (either diarrhea or constipation) lasting more than a few days, rectal bleeding, cramping or belly pain, unexplained anemia and weight loss. Too often, patients dismiss symptoms as minor annoyances for months or even years.
Cancer typically develops from colorectal polyps over a long period of time. The good news is, polyps are now being found more often and earlier through awareness of the importance of having routine colonoscopies.
During a colonoscopy, the doctor looks at the colon and rectum with a colonoscope — a thin, flexible, lighted tube with a small video camera on the end. Special instruments can be passed through the colonoscope to biopsy or remove any suspicious-looking areas such as polyps, if needed. The painless procedure typically lasts 15 to 30 minutes and patients return to work the next day.
Thanks to screenings and improved treatments, there are now more than 1 million survivors of colorectal cancer in the United States. Although the overall death rate has continued to drop, the American Cancer Society reports deaths from colorectal cancer among people younger than age 55 have increased one percent per year from 2007 to 2016. In response, the ACS recently lowered the age of recommended annual screenings from 50 to 45 for average risk individuals, although many insurance policies still don’t cover screenings until age 50. More aggressive guidelines mean more cancers will be found in their earlier, more treatable stage. That’s because patients usually don’t experience symptoms until their cancer has developed to a later stage. If you or a loved one experience symptoms, don’t wait. Talk to your doctor and take the necessary measures to rule out the possibility of colon cancer.
About Janet Daily, NP-C
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