Colorectal cancer, often referred to as colon cancer, is the second leading cause of cancer death among people in this country. Annually, 140,000 people are diagnosed in the United States and 50,000 people die from it.
When found and treated in its earliest stages, the survival rate is 90 percent. The problem is that most people do not experience symptoms until colon cancer is advanced. At that point, the cancer is harder to treat. When you have a colonoscopy, precancerous lesions and early cancers can be removed immediately during the procedure.
Dr. Neil Parikh, gastroenterologist with Hartford HealthCare’s Digestive Health Center, said “the impetus for this change was a rising incidence of colon cancer in younger adults. According to the American Cancer Society, a millennial today has double the risk of developing colon cancer compared to someone born in the 1950s.”
New guidelines now recommend that the average person get screened for colon cancer beginning at age 45 (it was 50). People at increased risk may benefit from earlier or more frequent testing.
If you answer yes to any of the following questions, talk with your doctor about getting screened.
- Are you over the age of 45?
- Do you have a family history of colon cancer or polyps?
- Are you of African-American or Ashkenazi Jewish descent?
- Do you have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis?
- Do you have a genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer?
Signs and symptoms of colon cancer include:
- A persistent change in your bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation or a change in the consistency of your stool
- Rectal 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
“Unfortunately for many patients, they have no symptoms whatsoever, which is why screening is so critical,” Parikh said.