What You Need to Know About Colon Cancer
Among cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon or rectum) is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Every year, about 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and more than 50,000 people die from it. The overall lifetime risk for developing colon cancer is 1 in 20. But the good news is that this disease is highly preventable with proactive screening and management of risk factors.
What are the risk factors?
Your risk for colorectal cancer may be higher than average if:
- You or a close relative have had colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer.
- You have inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis.
- You have a genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer.
Speak with your doctor about when to start screening and how often you should be tested if you think you’re at high risk for colorectal cancer.
What are the symptoms of colorectal cancer?
- People who have polyps or colorectal cancer don’t always have symptoms, especially at first. Someone could have polyps or colorectal cancer and not know it. If there are symptoms, they may include:
- Blood in or on your stool (bowel movement).
- Change in caliber of stool, more narrow stool or constipation.
- Pains, aches, or cramps in your stomach that don’t go away.
- Losing weight and you don’t know why.
If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor. They may be caused by something other than cancer. However, the only way to know what is causing them is to see your doctor.
How can you screen for colorectal cancer?
Screening tests help prevent colorectal cancer by finding precancerous polyps (abnormal growths) so they can be removed. Screening also finds this cancer early, when treatment can be most effective.
How often you need to get screened depends on your risk for colorectal cancer. It also depends on which kind of screening you get. There is more than one kind of screening test for colorectal cancer. Some involve analyzing stool for blood, while other procedures, such as the colonoscopy, provide a detailed look at the interior of the colon. Talk with your doctor about which test is right for you.
What does a colonoscopy entail?
A colonoscopy entails using a scope to examine the inside of your colon. A colonoscopy uses a long, flexible and slender tube attached to a video camera to monitor to view your entire colon and rectum. If any suspicious areas are found, your doctor can pass surgical tools through the tube to remove polyps.
Colonoscopies are essentially painless. Patients are sedated for comfort while blood pressure, heart rhythm, and oxygen level are closely monitored by an anesthesiologist. Medication may be adjusted throughout the procedure to ensure adequate sedation.
What should I discuss with my doctor?
Visiting the doctor can be stressful. It helps to have questions written down ahead of time. You may also want to ask a family member or close friend to go with you to take notes.
Below are some helpful questions to discuss with you doctor:
- What is my risk for colorectal cancer?
- When do you recommend that I start getting tested?
- How often do I need to get tested?
- What are the different types of screening tests for colorectal cancer?
- Which screening test do you recommend? Why?
- What happens during the screening? How do I prepare?
- Are there any dangers or side effects of screening?
- How long will it take to get the results?
- What can I do to reduce my risk of colorectal cancer?
Starling’s Department of Gastroenterology is here to address your questions and concerns. To schedule an appointment or screening, please contact us at (860) 224-6249 . Your primary care provider can also be a valuable resource to discuss risk factors and screening options.