Colon cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the large intestine. Our colons are about 6 feet long and allow waste to travel from the small intestine to the rectum. Like other organs in our body, the colon is vulnerable to many diseases and conditions, like cancer.
Colon Cancer Causes and Risk Factors
At this time, we can’t exactly pinpoint what causes colon cancer, but we do know what may make our risk of developing colon cancer greater. Risk factors for colon cancer include:
Age. As you age, your risk for developing colon cancer increases. Colon cancer most often occurs in adults over the age of 50, but it can still occur in younger adults.
Family Medical History. If you have a family history of colon cancer, you may be at a greater risk of developing the disease, too. A person does not need a family history of colon cancer to have colon cancer; it is most commonly diagnosed in those without a family history.
Personal Medical History. Having polyps, small growths in the colon, puts you at risk of developing colon cancer. Seventy percent to 90% of colon cancer cases develop from polyps, and having them removed reduces your risk of colon cancer. Once removed, they can return, which makes colon cancer screening a vital part of maintaining colon health. You are also more at risk if you suffer from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a condition that causes the colon to become inflamed.
Genetics. Two inherited syndromes are commonly associated with a marked increase in colon cancer risk are familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC). About 5% of colon cancer cases are caused by an inherited syndrome.
Other Identified Risk Factors:
There are many other identified colon cancer risk factors, such as smoking cigarettes, consuming alcohol, level of physical activity, obesity, and diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.
Colon Cancer Symptoms
In the early stages, colon cancer usually doesn’t have symptoms. As the disease progresses, which can take years, symptoms include:
• blood in stools
• persistent constipation, diarrhea, or other bowel changes
• thinner stools
• unexplained weight loss
• abdominal pain and discomfort- generally feeling full, bloated, or cramping
• abdominal tenderness or pain
These colon cancer symptoms are not unique and can also be symptoms of many other conditions.
Colon Cancer Prevention
Regular colon cancer screening is key to preventing colon cancer. Screening can identify precancerous growths before they potentially progress into cancer. Keep in mind that it takes an average of 10 to 15 years for colon cancer to develop, so routine screening can detect these changes before they turn cancerous. Remember, for average risk people, colon cancer screening should begin at age 50.
Those who are at higher risk from family or personal history of polyps or colon cancer may want to consider genetic counseling to determine if they are a carrier of a mutated gene related to colon cancer. Knowing if you are a carrier can greatly influence how you manage your colon health.
Avoiding risk factors for colon cancer can also reduce your risk of developing the disease. Eating a balanced diet, not smoking, and maintaining healthy weights are all ways to reduce your risk of not only colon cancer, but many other conditions as well.
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