If you’re approaching age 50, it’s time to learn a few new facts for this phase of your life. March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness month, so it’s the perfect time to learn more.
Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women. It’s also one of the most preventable cancers thanks to screening tests that can detect problems early.
Symptoms of colon cancer
Colon cancer may start in either the colon or rectum, often as polyps that grow into cancer over time. It may not cause any symptoms in the early stages, one reason why screening is so important. However, as cancer grows, symptoms may include:
- Pain in your abdomen
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Blood in your stool
- Cramping or gas
- Change in appetite
- Weight loss
- Being extra tired
If not discovered early, treatment for colon cancer can include surgery and chemotherapy.
What are the screening tests?
If it’s time for your screening, you do have options. There are simple stool tests that you can do at home, such as a fecal occult blood test, fecal immunochemical test or stool DNA test.
Other tests involve a bit more preparation such as a flexible sigmoidoscopy or a colonoscopy. Your doctor will know which is best for you.
The American Cancer Society recommends that you first talk with your doctor about screening as early as age 45. Depending on personal risk factors, some people should have screening even earlier.
Risk factors for colon cancer include:
- Having a sedentary lifestyle
- Overuse of alcohol
- Being obese
You may have a higher risk if you have a family history of colon or rectal cancer or a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease. The genetic conditions Lynch syndrome, Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and MYH-associated polyposis also increase risk.
Colon cancer screening should be a regular part of wellness exams, especially after age 50. Most insurance companies cover screening tests if they are appropriate for your age and risk factors. It’s always good to ask if the test is covered if you’re not sure.