Who's at Risk?
Colon cancer can affect anyone—both men and women—and risk increases with age. Some people are at greater risk than others. Some risk factors include:
- Being age 50 or older
- Personal or family history of colorectal polyps, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, or Crohn's disease
- Personal or family history of colorectal, ovarian, endometrial, breast or other cancers of the GI tract or the female reproductive system
- Being of African-American or Hispanic descent—these groups are often diagnosed at a later stage of the disease
- Experiencing symptoms, as described below
Additionally, certain lifestyle choices can lead to an increased risk of developing colon cancer:
A diet high in fat can substantially increase the risk for colon cancer—whereas a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can reduce risk.
Lack of exercise and a sedentary lifestyle, as well as obesity, can increase the risk of colon cancer
Smoking and Alcohol Use
Smokers have a 30-40% higher risk of developing colon cancer than non-smokers.
What are the Symptoms of Colon Cancer?
The most common symptom of colon cancer is having no symptom at all, which is why regular screening is critical.
If you experience any of the following symptoms, speak to your doctor about scheduling a screening, especially if you have a personal or family history of cancer or colon polyps:
- A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool that lasts for more than a few days
- Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool
- Cramping or stomach pain
- Feeling bloated or full in the stomach
- Gas pains
- Weakness and fatigue
- Decreased appetite
- Losing weight when you are not trying to
The symptoms of colon cancer may resemble other conditions, like infections, hemorrhoids and inflammatory bowel disease, so talk to your doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.
Stop Cancer Before it Starts
Because it’s possible to have colon cancer and not experience symptoms, everyone should be screened starting at age 50.
Colorectal cancer is preventable and curable when detected early. Learn more about screening here, and talk with your doctor about what kind of screening is right for you.