Of the cancers that effect both men and women, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Yet, did you know this colorectal cancer is highly preventable through screening? Unfortunately, one in three adults over the age of 50 is not being screened. Not only does screening find cancer early when treatment can be most effective, but it can literally save your life.
The colon (also known as the large intestine) is about five to six feet long, beginning at the cecum and ending with the anus. The last five to ten inches of the colon is called the rectum. Cancer found in the large intestine (colon) is called colon cancer. Cancer found in the rectum is known as rectal cancer. Colorectal cancer is the term referring to both types of cancer.
Most cases of colorectal cancer begin as small, noncancerous (benign) clumps of cells called polyps that, over time, can become cancers. Polyps can be small and cause little, and maybe even no symptoms, so screening tests are recommended at regular intervals to help prevent colon cancer and to find and remove polyps before becoming cancerous.
Signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer can include:
- A change in your bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation or a change in the consistency of your stool, that lasts longer than four weeks.
- Bleeding or blood in your stool.
- Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain.
- A feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely.
- Weakness or fatigue.
- Unexplained weight loss.
Many people with colon cancer experience no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. When symptoms appear, they usually vary from person to person, depending on the cancer’s size and location within the large intestine – ranging anywhere from the beginning of the colon (cecum) to its end (rectum).
If you notice any symptoms of colorectal cancer, make an appointment with your healthcare provider. Also, talk to your provider about when you should begin screening for colon cancer. Guidelines generally recommend that colorectal cancer screenings begin at age 50. Your provider may recommend more frequent or earlier screening if you have other risk factors, such as a family history of the disease.
Colorectal cancer screening tests include one or a combination of these screening methods. You healthcare provider will recommend which test(s) are appropriate for your situation:
- Fecal occult blood testing (FOBT)
- Fecal immunochemical testing (FIT)
- Stool DNA testing
- Computed tomography colonography (virtual colonoscopy)
To kick off March as National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, Mayo Clinic is participating in a social media campaign to raise awareness about colorectal cancer and the importance of screening and early detection to save lives. Videos have been produced featuring Mayo Clinic experts providing usable information on a range of topics related to prevention, diagnosis and treatment of colorectal cancer. These short and insightful videos, along with additional information about colorectal cancer, can be found on Mayo Clinic Connect. The goal is to create awareness about screening. If you can, do your part and encourage friends and family to discuss colorectal cancer screening with their healthcare provider.
In general, what can you do lower your risk for colorectal cancer?
- Know your family medical history and talk to your provider about colorectal cancer screening.
- If you’re aged 50 to 75, get screened. If you’re between 76 and 85, talk to your doctor to determine if you should be screened.
- Be physically active. At least 150 minutes per week of moderate activity.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Drink alcohol in moderation.
- Do not smoke.
Have you been screened for colorectal cancer? What has been your experience?