Did you know colorectal cancer, often referred to as colon or rectal cancer, is the third most common form of cancer in the United States? According to the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, the disease affects more than 140,000 Americans annually and is the second leading cause of death by cancer, taking an astonishing 50,000 lives a year.
You may be asking yourself, what exactly does the colon do? Well, the colon, also known as the large intestine, is an integral part your body’s digestive system. The essential functions of the colon are to reabsorb fluids, process remaining waste, extract nutrients, and prepare it for elimination. Simply put, your colon helps the body empty waste.
The American Cancer Society warns that one in twenty-four women will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in their lifetime. The risk is even greater for men whose odds are about one in twenty-two. With these numbers in mind and National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month approaching in March, it’s important to stay educated on the signs, symptoms, risk factors, and preventative measures you should be taking to help fight colorectal cancer.
In most cases, colon cancer begins as polyps — small abnormal growths that live on the inner lining of the colon. Although colon cancer first presents itself in the form of these growths, not all polyps follow the same maturity route. Generally speaking, adenomatous polyps are considered to be pre-cancerous, whereas hyperplastic and inflammatory polyps are more common and benign.
Polyps often display very few symptoms, which is why doctors recommend regular screening tests to detect these abnormalities. In addition to routine screening, the at-home Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) is a valuable resource to monitor the health of your colon in the privacy of your home. The test is non-invasive and requires no prior preparation!
- Changes in bowel habits, including changes in consistency of stool (diarrhea, constipation), lasting longer than four weeks
- Rectal bleeding or blood in stool
- Abdominal discomfort
- Cramping, frequent gas, and associated pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
These symptoms are oftentimes mild and undetectable in the onset of colon cancer. Signs and symptoms may also vary depending on the size of the cancer and its location in the large intestine. If you begin to notice any of these symptoms, do not hesitate to contact your physician.
- Age – colon cancer typically affects those 50 and older
- Inflammatory intestinal conditions such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- High-fat, low-fiber diets
- Smoking and alcohol use
- Radiation therapy directed at the abdomen to treat previous cancers
In addition, a family history of colon cancer and inherited risk factors such as Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP) and Hereditary Non-Polyposis Colorectal Cancer (HPNCC) or Lynch Syndrome can increase your risk.
When it comes to protecting your body against colon cancer, many factors are within your control! Scheduling routine screening with your doctor is by far the most important and effective action to take with colon health in mind. Although it is generally recommended people begin colon cancer screenings at age 50, those with certain risk factors or family history of the disease are encouraged to speak with their doctor about earlier and more frequent screenings.
Colorectal cancer screening can detect precancerous polyps before they develop and become a real danger to your health. When colorectal cancer is found in the early stages with screening, treatment is typically more effective.
Certain lifestyle changes are also shown to reduce your risk for colon cancer:
- Eating a balanced and colorful diet full of fruits, vegetables and whole grains
- Increasing physical activity with 30 minutes of exercise a day
- Limiting alcohol consumption
- Avoid tobacco products
With March just around the corner and National Colorectal Cancer Awareness on the forefront, Any Lab Test Now encourages you to watch for signs and symptoms, speak with your doctor, and take preventative measures to make your colon health an ongoing priority.