What You Need to Know About Colon Cancer
Colorectal cancer is the third most common form of cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths. Because colon cancer progresses very slowly, it may go undetected for several years – and because of low detection rates, it is responsible for thousands of deaths every year. Many symptoms of colon cancer are often interpreted as other conditions, making colon cancer screening critical for accurate diagnosis.
While scary, colon cancer can best be treated when detected early, and in cases where patients have pre-cancerous polyps, the detection and removal of these lesions can effectively PREVENT the development of cancer – which is why we believe it’s critical to always visit your doctor with any colorectal health concerns.
Detecting colorectal cancer
The most effective means of detecting colorectal cancer in its early stages is through colonoscopy. These tests will help your doctor determine whether or not you are suffering from the disease, or if you have changes which, if left alone could develop into a cancer. If it is caught in the early stages, the prognosis is very good for treatment.
- If you age 50 or older, you are at an increased risk. You should have a colonoscopy at least once every 10 years, with examinations more frequently in certain circumstances.
- If you have a family history of colon or other forms of cancer, more frequent scopes may be recommended.
- Certain patients with rectal bleeding or other colorectal symptoms should have colonoscopy in order to help rule out precancerous or cancerous lesions as the cause of these symptoms. You should talk with your doctor to see if you are a candidate for colonoscopy and a colorectal screening.
About Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer is typically felt to develop within certain types of polyps which commonly develop in the colon and rectum. If left unchecked, these polyps can develop into cancers which can become quite large before they can be detected, and which may spread to lymph nodes, the liver, and to other structures. Since the symptoms early on in the disease are minimal, many patients don’t know they are affected until the disease has progressed substantially. A screening colonoscopy can often find these lesions at an early stage, increasing the likelihood of a successful treatment, or find suspicious polyps before they have developed into cancer. The removal of these polyps can then effectively prevent the development of cancer!
You can increase your chances of early detection by watching for these important warning signs:
- Blood in stool: This symptom often goes undetected, especially if the blood is dark. This blood may be traced to a tumor in the colon or rectum, and may vary from being bright red to a very dark maroon color that is almost black. It is very important to monitor the color and consistency of your stool.
- Constipation or changes in bowel activity: Constipation that occurs with regularity, such as more than three times a week, is an indication that there may be a blockage in the bowel. Narrowing of the stool is another warning sign. Any sudden change in bowel habits that cannot be attributed to diet or exercise modification should be evaluated.
- Anemia: This is frequently the result of a tumor that is bleeding into the intestinal tract. It may cause weakness or dizziness and is quite common. Unexplained anemia that cannot be traced to another source should be investigated.
Sometimes patients mistake the signs of colon cancer for hemorrhoids, or vice-versa. That’s why accurate diagnosis is essential. If you are concerned about these symptoms, find a physician now.