Unfortunately, when colon cancer develops, there are usually few, if any, early warning symptoms. In many cases, patients have had no symptoms at all until it is too late. That is the problem. Colon cancer is a silent disease. A polyp can be in your colon for many years without symptoms. Even after a polyp turns into a small cancer, it may not produce symptoms. This is why doctors recommend periodic checkups of all adults before they have any symptoms. It is much better to prevent a colon cancer than to find one.
Eventually, when a cancer is so big that it either begins to bleed or block the passageway, it can cause such symptoms as:
- Rectal bleeding
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
- Change in bowel habits.
If you have any of these symptoms, you should schedule an examination right away.
Risk Factors for Colon Cancer
There are some factors that alone, or in combination, make people more prone to developing colon cancer.
- Family members with colon cancer or colon polyps
- Family members with colorectal cancer syndromes (a genetic trait)
- Ethnic background – Jews of Eastern European descent and African Americans have a higher rate of colon cancer.
- You have had colorectal cancer
- You have a history of colon polyps
- You have a history of chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Aging – the risk increases significantly after age 50
- A diet high in fat, especially from animal sources
- Physical inactivity
- Heavy use of alcohol
- Night shift work.
A summary of this information can be downloaded for printing. The American Cancer Society recommends screening for people age 50 or older and younger than that if they have any of the risk factors for colon cancer or have experienced any of the warning signs.
Colon Cancer Screening
We conduct tests to prevent or detect cancer of the colon. For example, most colon cancers develop from non-cancerous growths called polyps. Through screening tests, these polyps can be identified and removed before they become cancerous. Detected early, colon cancer is a highly treatable disease. All colorectal screening tests are not equal. It is important to know your options so you can discuss with your physician what is best for you. The goal is to get the best possible view of the inside of the entire colon to identify and remove pre-cancerous lesions, such as polyps or growths, before they become life threatening. The reliability of these examinations depends on the experience and expertise of your physician. This is why it is important to be seen by a specialist or gastroenterologist.