Know the Signs of Colon Cancer at Any Age
Today’s world offers a way to detect cancer before symptoms even start: regular screenings.
Colon cancer screenings typically start at age 45 and are covered by most insurance providers. However, the number of diagnoses continues to rise, and colon cancer is showing up more frequently in younger people.
Therefore, it’s important to get your colonoscopy as soon as you become eligible, make preventive changes to your lifestyle, and know the signs of colon cancer.
"People put off their colonoscopy because they think it’s a painful experience or embarrassing,” said Christopher Hurley, MD, a gastroenterologist at Avera Medical Group Gastroenterology. “Colonoscopy is a safe procedure that everyone undergoes.”
“The danger of skipping a colonoscopy is that an undetected tumor in your colon could grow and metastasize to the lymph nodes or even the liver or bones, making it much more difficult to treat,” said Hurley.
During the exam, the physician may remove polyps and tissue samples which will be sent to a lab for testing.
Signs of Colon Cancer
The purpose of regular screenings is to detect cancer before symptoms arise. Early detection offers the best chance for an ideal outcome should you receive a cancer diagnosis.
However, it’s also important to know the possible symptoms of colon cancer, especially if you’re under age 45. About 12% of people diagnosed with colorectal cancer are younger than 50, according to the American Cancer Society. Incidence rates have been increasing in 20- to 39-year-olds since the mid-1980s and in 40- to 50-year-olds since the mid-1990s. That led to updates to the guidelines – including making age 45 the recommended time to get the first colonoscopy.
If you experience any of these, talk to your doctor:
- Blood – Watch for blood in your stools or if they appear tar black.
- Fatigue – Anemia, caused by internal bleeding, prevents oxygen from circulating in the blood, causing you to feel tired and look pale.
- Abdominal pain – Discomfort can come from a blockage or constant gas, cramps or bloating.
- Change in bowel habits – “Bowel habits vary from person to person, so you know what’s normal for you,” said Hurley. Normal could be going once most days per week or a few times per day. Bouts of constipation or diarrhea happen to anyone due to a variety of reasons, such as medication, change in diet, stress, etc., but a sudden, unexplained change in bathroom habits should be checked out.
- Weight loss – Cancer cells can affect how your body turns food to energy, which may result in easy, unintentional weight loss.
How to Prevent Colon Cancer
“The main risk factor people face in regard to colon cancer is their genetics,” said Hurley. While you can’t change your family’s genetic history, you have the power to change how you live your life.
To lower your risk of colon cancer, exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight, and follow a diet low in fat and high in fiber.
Good colon health starts by talking to your primary care provider. If you’re 45 or older, schedule a colonoscopy, or if you’re younger than 45, talk to your provider if you have a family history or concerning symptoms.