Colon cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the colon, and the large intestine. Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women in the United States, with an estimated 147,950 new cases diagnosed in 2023. It is also the second leading cause of cancer death, with an estimated 52,980 deaths expected this year.
This cancer is a serious disease, but it is often preventable and treatable. If you have any of the risk factors for colon cancer, talk to your doctor about getting screened. If you are diagnosed with colon cancer, there are several effective treatments available.
Colon cancer usually develops slowly over many years. It often begins as a growth called a polyp on the inner lining of the colon. Over time, some polyps can become cancerous.
Causes of Colon Cancer
Before we explore the warning signs, let’s take a moment to understand what could potentially trigger the onset of colon cancer. While the precise cause remains elusive, several risk factors have been identified.
Age: Colon cancer is often associated with advancing age. The risk tends to increase significantly after the age of 50. Regular screenings become crucial as you grow older to catch any potential issues in their early stages.
Family History: A family history of colon cancer or polyps can elevate your risk. If a close relative, such as a parent or sibling, has had colon cancer, it’s imperative to discuss this with your healthcare provider for appropriate screening recommendations.
Genetic Factors: In some cases, genetic mutations can play a role in the development of colon cancer. Conditions like Lynch syndrome and familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) are associated with a higher risk. Genetic counseling may be recommended for individuals with a family history of these conditions.
Dietary Habits: What you eat can impact your risk of colon cancer. Diets high in red and processed meats and low in fiber have been linked to an increased likelihood of developing colon cancer. Adopting a balanced and nutritious diet can contribute to overall colorectal health.
Lifestyle Choices: Sedentary lifestyles, obesity, and smoking have all been identified as potential risk factors for colon cancer. Engaging in regular physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight can contribute to lowering the risk.
Top Signs and Symptoms of Colon Cancer
Now that we have a better understanding of the potential causes, let’s shift our focus to the key signs and symptoms that may indicate the presence of colon cancer. Early detection is paramount, and being aware of these warning signs can prompt timely medical attention.
Changes in Bowel Habits: Pay attention to any noticeable changes in your bowel habits. Persistent diarrhea, constipation, or a change in the consistency of your stool could be indicative of an underlying issue.
Blood in the Stool: One of the most significant red flags is the presence of blood in your stool. This may manifest as bright red blood or as dark, tarry stools. Regardless of the color, any unexplained bleeding should be promptly addressed with a healthcare professional.
Abdominal Discomfort: Persistent abdominal discomfort, including cramps, gas, or bloating, should not be dismissed. While these symptoms can be attributed to various factors, their persistence warrants a thorough evaluation.
Unexplained Weight Loss: Sudden and unexplained weight loss can be a cause for concern. If you’re losing weight without intentional changes to your diet or exercise routine, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare provider.
Fatigue and Weakness: Colon cancer can lead to fatigue and weakness, often stemming from anemia caused by chronic blood loss. If you find yourself consistently tired and weak, it’s crucial to investigate the underlying cause.
Incomplete Emptying of the Bowels: Difficulty in fully emptying the bowels or a feeling of incomplete evacuation may signal an issue with the colon. This persistent sensation should prompt further evaluation.
In conclusion, staying informed about the causes and recognizing the signs and symptoms of colon cancer is instrumental in safeguarding your health. Regular screenings, especially for individuals with risk factors such as age or family history, can aid in the early detection of any abnormalities.
Remember, a proactive approach to your health is a powerful tool in the fight against colon cancer. If you experience any of the mentioned symptoms, don’t hesitate to consult with your healthcare provider for a thorough evaluation. Your well-being is worth the investment of attention and care.