By Chris Papandrikopoulos
Colon cancer is a tumor of the large intestine (colon). It is the third most common cause of cancer-related death in the United States. However, most people with colon cancer get better if the cancer is found early. Rectal cancer is a type of colon cancer that starts at the end of the large intestine, which is called the rectum. The term colorectal cancer is used for cancer of the colon or rectum.
Colon cancer can cause blood in the stool, stomach pain, and a change in bowel movements (such as a change in the size of your stool). Some people do not have any symptoms. If you do not have symptoms, it is more likely that the tumor will not be found and will continue to grow. Screening tests can find cancer and small tumors called polyps (POL-ips) that can turn into cancer over time. Healthy people 50 years and older should get screened. You should continue screening until you are 75 years old. If you have symptoms of colon cancer or if you are at risk of colon cancer, your doctor may suggest getting screened before 50 years of age. You are at higher risk of colon cancer if you have a parent or sibling who has or had colon cancer, polyps, or other less common conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease.
There are several kinds of screening tests for colon cancer. Some can be done at home, and some are done at a doctor’s office. They range in cost and the type of preparation needed before the test.
- Fecal immunochemical test (FIT)
- Guaiac-based fecal occult blood test
- Multitargeted stool DNA test (FIT-DNA)
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy
- CT colonography
The only way to prevent colon cancer is to find polyps early and have them removed. Eating more calcium and dairy, eating less red meat, increasing physical activity, losing weight if you are overweight, and taking statins (medicines for high cholesterol) may lower the risk of getting polyps and colon cancer. Taking aspirin or ibuprofen may lower your risk of getting polyps and colon cancer. But, aspirin and ibuprofen may also cause kidney problems or bleeding in your stomach. Aspirin is only recommended for people 50 to 69 years of age who are at higher risk of heart disease and who are willing to take aspirin for at least 10 years to get the full benefit. Women who have gone through menopause may lower their risk of colon cancer by taking hormones. But, hormones have side effects, including blood clots and a higher risk of breast cancer. Taking fiber, folic acid, or antioxidants (for example, vitamin A) does not change the risk of getting polyps or colon cancer.