Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States, with over 100,000 new cases each year. Fortunately, it is highly treatable if it's detected early enough. Understanding the warning signs and screening options can help you stay one step ahead of this deadly disease. Here's what you need to know.
What Are the Early Warning Signs of Colon Cancer?
There is nothing you can do to prevent colon cancer, but there are a few warning signs to watch out for, including:
- Changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation
- Blood in your stool
- Abdominal pain
- Unexplained weight loss
Any of these symptoms are cause for concern, particularly if accompanied by fatigue, nausea, or vomiting. Therefore, it is important to speak to your doctor right away so they can conduct tests to determine whether further action is needed.
What Tests or Screening Options Are Available?
The American Cancer Society previously recommended that everyone over 50 receive regular screenings for colon cancer. Be advised, however. They have since lowered their recommendation to 45, even if the patient has no symptoms or family history of the disease. There are several screening options available for those concerned about their risk of developing colon cancer, including:
- Stool sample. The easiest method to screen for colon cancer, especially if you are young and do not have a family history, is to use a stool sample, which is typically mailed to a lab. The medical name for this test is a fecal occult blood test (FOBT), which looks for microscopic amounts of blood in stool samples.
- Colonoscopy. Another common and very thorough screening method is a colonoscopy, which involves inserting a camera into the rectum to check for any abnormalities or growths on the colon wall.
- Sigmoidoscopy. This screening test is similar to a colonoscopy but with a shorter scope. However, it only checks only part of the large intestine, which may be sufficient in some cases.
- Endoscopic ultrasound. Like OB/GYN ultrasounds, an endoscopic ultrasound involves sound waves generating an image of the inside of the body, which is then used to detect tumors, growths, or other abnormalities.
Speak with your doctor about which option is best for you based on your age, personal medical history, and any potential risk factors.
Colon cancer affects millions around the world every year, but it doesn't have to be you. Staying informed, paying attention to warning signs, and taking advantage of screening options all help catch this condition before it becomes more serious.