Colon cancer or colon cancer is the third most common cancer. There are more than 95,000 new cases in the United States each year.
As with most cancers, the key to fighting colon cancer is detecting it early. Now is a good time to speak to your doctor if you have any concerns about your gut health.
Colon cancer signs and symptoms can include:
- Changes in bowel habits that last more than four weeks. This could be diarrhea or constipation.
- Blood in the stool
- Persistent abdominal discomfort such as cramps, gas, gas, or pain
- A feeling that your bowels are not emptying completely
- Weakness or tiredness
- Inexplicable weight loss
Colon cancer symptoms often do not appear in the early stages. Symptoms can often vary depending on the stage of the disease, the location of the cancer, and the size of the cancer in your colon.
If you notice possible symptoms of colon cancer, such as blood in your stool or a persistent change in bowel habits, it is time to speak to your doctor.
If your family has cancer of the colon, you should get screened for colon cancer early. In general, people with no family history of cancer are recommended to start early detection at the age of 45. This is a new recommendation. Depending on your health and family history, your doctor may recommend more frequent or earlier checkups. All African Americans should start colon cancer screening at the age of 45.
In most cases it is not clear what causes colon cancer. When healthy cells in the colon or colon grow too quickly or divide too often, cancer can develop. When the cells accumulate, they form a tumor.
Over time, cancer cells invade healthy cells and cause the cancer to spread to normal tissue nearby. Cancer cells can also migrate to other areas of the body, causing additional cancer there.
In some cases, doctors can pinpoint inherited gene mutations that increase the risk of colon cancer. These mutations are often passed on through families. However, these genes have only been linked to a small percentage of colon cancer. While inherited gene mutations do not make cancer inevitable, they do increase the likelihood of developing cancer.
Low levels of vitamin D3 have been linked to an increased risk of colon and rectal cancer.
Doctors have found a strong link between diet and cancer. Studies have shown that the typical Western diet increases the risk of cancer, including colon cancer. This high-fat, low-fiber diet, typical of the United States, significantly increases your risk of cancer. It appears that there is a link between lack of fiber and gut health. Research will continue to determine the overall cause of colon cancer.
There are many risk factors for colon cancer – some that cannot be changed, such as a family history, and others that cannot be changed, such as a change in diet.
Risk factors that cannot be changed include:
- Older age. The vast majority of people diagnosed with colon cancer are over the age of 50. Colon cancer is much less common in younger people.
- African American breed. African Americans are at higher risk of colon cancer than people of other races.
- A personal history of colon cancer or polyps. If you’ve had colon cancer or adenomatous polyps before, you have a higher risk of colon cancer in the future.
- Inflammatory bowel disease. Chronic inflammatory diseases of the colon such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease can increase the risk of colon cancer.
- Inherited syndromes that increase the risk of colon cancer. Genetic syndromes passed down through generations in your family can increase your risk of colon cancer. These syndromes include familial adenomatous polyposis and hereditary colon cancer without polyposis, also known as Lynch syndrome.
- Family history of colon cancer. Colon cancer is more likely to develop if a parent, sibling, or child has the disease. If more than one family member has colon or rectal cancer, your risk is even greater.
- Radiation therapy for cancer. Abdominal radiation therapy to treat previous cancers may increase the risk of colon cancer.
- Diabetes. People with diabetes and insulin resistance may be at increased risk of colon cancer. Lifestyle and diet changes can improve the health of people with diabetes.
Risk factors that can be changed include:
- Low-fiber, high-fat diet. Colon cancer and rectal cancer can be linked to a diet low in fiber and high in fat and calories. Research in this area has produced mixed results, but some studies have found an increased risk of colon cancer in people who eat a diet high in red meat and processed meat.
- A sedentary lifestyle. If you are inactive, you are more likely to develop colon cancer. Regular physical activity can reduce your risk of colon cancer. Obesity. People who are overweight have an increased risk of colon cancer and an increased risk of dying from colon cancer compared to people who are considered to be of normal weight.
- Smoking. People who smoke may be at increased risk of colon cancer.
- Alcohol. Heavy alcohol consumption can increase your risk of colon cancer.
- Low vitamin D3 levels.
There are ways to reduce your risk and potentially prevent colon cancer, including having regular colonoscopy as recommended by your doctor, taking a low-dose aspirin, or taking a vitamin D3 supplement. Talk to your doctor before starting a new low-dose aspirin or supplement regimen.
Harry Anagnostakos, DO, is a gastroenterologist with Beebe Gastroenterology Associates in Lewes. He completed his medical degree at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. Anagnostakos has 30 years of experience in his own practice and has performed more than 20,000 endoscopic procedures. For more information on Beebe Healthcare, visit beebehealthcare.org.