With approximately 150,000 new cases of colorectal cancer diagnosed annually, colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Nearly 50,000 people die from the disease. Fortunately, colon cancer is highly preventable and can be detected through testing even before there are symptoms. It has been estimated that increased awareness and screenings would save at least 30,000 lives each year.

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FAQs on Colon Cancer:

What Is Colon Cancer?

Most cases of colorectal cancers begin as a growth on the inner lining of the rectum. These growths, called polyps, can morph into cancer over time. Not all polyps will become cancer. There are two types of polyps:

  • Adenomatous polyps (adenomas) - These polyps are considered “precancerous” as they have the potential to morph into cancer. 
  • Hyperplastic polyps and inflammatory polyps: These polyps are more common, but in general they are not precancerous.

What Are The Symptoms of Colon Cancer?

The symptoms of colon cancer depend on the size and location of the cancer itself. However, some common symptoms include:

  • Changes in bowel habits (diarrhea or constipation)
  • Changes in stool consistency
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Sensation that your bowel doesn't empty completely

Is Colon Cancer More Common In Men?

No. Colorectal cancer affects an equal number of men and women. Beginning at age 50, all men and women should be screened for colorectal cancer even if they are experiencing no problems or symptoms.

How Is Colon Cancer Detected?

Tests used for screening for colon cancer include:

How Often Should I Get Screened For Colon Cancer?

Talk to your healthcare provider about which test is best for you. Beginning at age 50, men and women should have:

  • An annual occult blood test on spontaneously passed stool (at a minimum)
  • A flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years
  • A complete colonoscopy every 10 years

These tests are used to screen for colorectal cancer even before there are symptoms. 

Is A Colonoscopy Painful?

Colonoscopies aren’t usually painful because the patient receives a mild sedative before the procedure. A colonoscopy screening exam is almost always done on an outpatient basis. A flexible, slender tube is inserted into the rectum to look inside the colon. The test is safe and the procedure itself typically takes less than 45 minutes.

Is Colon Cancer Preventable?

Yes, colon cancer is highly preventable. A colonoscopy may detect polyps (small growths on the lining of the colon) which can be removed via biopsy or snare polypectomy. This results in a major reduction in the likelihood of developing colorectal cancer in the future.

Should I Get Screened For Colon Cancer?

The American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE) encourages everyone over 50 and or those under 50 with a family history to be screened for colorectal cancer.

It’s important to note that you may need to begin periodic screening colonoscopy earlier than age 50 if you have:

  • A personal or family history of colorectal cancer
  • Polyps
  • Long-standing ulcerative colitis