By Harvey J. Rosenberg, MD
When was the last time you were screened for colon cancer? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among men and women in the U.S. If you have a family history of colon cancer, you are two to three times more likely to develop colon cancer in your lifetime.
Signs and symptoms of colon cancer include:
- A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool, that lasts for more than a few days
- A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that’s not relieved by having one
- Rectal bleeding with bright red blood
- Blood in the stool, which may make the stool look dark
- Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain
- Weakness or fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
Last year, the American Cancer Society (ACS) released updated guidelines for recommended colorectal cancer screenings. ACS recommends adults ages 45 and older with an average risk of colorectal cancer should undergo regular screening which can include stool-based tests or visual exams such as a colonoscopy or CT colonography. The frequency of screenings varies for each test. It also varies based on the risk level of the individual. The type of screening used can vary from person to person.
A person is considered average risk if they have not had any of the following:
- A personal history of colorectal cancer or certain types of polyps
- A family history of colorectal cancer
- A personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease)
- A confirmed or suspected hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome, such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or Lynch syndrome (hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer or HNPCC)
- A personal history of getting radiation to the abdomen (belly) or pelvic area to treat a prior cancer
ACS recommended guidelines for colorectal cancer screenings:
- Ages 45-75: Get screened. There are several types of tests available. Discuss with your physician which option is right for you.
- Ages 76-85: Discuss with your physician whether continued screenings are needed based on your personal preference, life expectancy, overall health, and prior screening history.
- Age 85+: Screenings are no longer recommended.
With regular colorectal cancer screenings, your risk of surviving colon cancer increases greatly. Nine out of 10 patients will survive five or more years when colon cancer is caught in its early stages. Speak to your physician about your level of risk for developing colon cancer as well as which screening is best for you.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Cancer Society