By Laura Bourdeanu, NP, PhD
March is National Colon Cancer Awareness Month, and has come a long way since President Bill Clinton declared it so in February of 2000. It is now a communal focal point for cancer advocates, patients, caregivers and survivors who help spread awareness and share their experiences with colon cancer. Blue is worn on National Dress in Blue Day to show how courageous the victims of colon cancer are. Making conversation about cancer screening more open, having educational events and fundraising efforts through events on particular days like International Womena��s Day are some of the ways to spread awareness about colon cancer. Leta��s talk of some of the symptoms of colon cancer followed by how getting checked for colon cancer through screening can help prevent it.
Before we Jump directly into the symptoms, it might be helpful to know what puts you at risk of colon cancer.
Your risk of getting colon cancer can increase if one or more of your blood relatives have colon cancer or adenomatous polyps; they may be your brother or sister or parent(s).A� You are also at risk for colon cancer if you have an inherited syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), Lynch syndrome, Turcot syndrome, Peutz-jeghers syndrome, or MUTYH-associated polyposis.A� your own history of chronic inflammatory bowel diseases, like Crohna��s disease or Ulcerative Colitis, type 2 diabetes,A� or have suffered from cancer polyps in the past, increases your risk of contracting colon cancer.A� Older people are also at a higher risk of contracting this disease.A� If you have lesser fiber and more fat in your diet, you may want to consider revising your diet for the opposite. Pizzas and burgers, especially with red or processed meats and other fast foods with higher fat content and less fiber increase the risk of colon cancer as there is less fiber to clean to increase the stool bulk. By increasing the total volume of your stool and eliminating it, you are reducing the concentration of substances, such as bile acids, that are in contact with the bowel wall, thus reducing the risk of colon cancer. Lack of exercise combined with being seated much of the time makes for an inactive lifestyle. Inactive lifestyles and obesity contribute to an increased colon cancer risk. Colon cancer has also been linked to tobacco smoking, heavy alcohol use, and night shift work.
You may not experience the symptoms of colon cancer until it is too late, and the location of the symptoms will possibly vary depending on where the cancer is localized in your digestive tract (large/small intestines). The symptoms can include colorectal bleeding or blood infused with our stool, weakness or fatigue, a sudden loss of weight, a constant feeling of heaviness in your bowel, facing frequent cramps or pain in the stomach and intestinal region accompanied by an urgent need to pass gas and changes lasting more than a month in your bowel habits like constipation or diarrhea or an inconsistent stool.
Screening for colorectal cancer is one of the most powerful weapons against cancer, as many colorectal cancers can be prevented through screening. Screening can detect polyps (abnormal growths) and remove them before they turn into cancer or it can detect the cancer early before it spread when it is easier to treat.A� Screening is crucial because when found early, colorectal cancer is highly treatable. Early stages of colorectal cancer usually present no symptoms, which tend to appear as the cancer progresses.
Currently, regular colorectal screening begins at the age of 50 and continues until the age 75 years. People of higher risk of developing colorectal cancer should begin screening at a younger age or get tested more frequently. Screening for colorectal cancer includes high-sensitivity fecal occult blood testing, sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy.
So this month, consult your physician about what screening you could opt for.A� If you were born in the 1990 or later then start a healthy diet and exercise regimen, as your risk of having colon cancer is doubled, and that of rectal cancer is four times higher than people in your parenta��s generation.