Colorectal Cancer is Easiest to Treat if Found Early

Published: Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Edwards Comprehensive Cancer Center and Cabell Huntington Hospital offer screenings that provide early detection of colorectal cancer and could save your life. Colorectal cancer affects men and women of ethnicities people age 50 and over. It is the second leading cancer in the United States. But, if found early, it is the easiest to treat.

Screening tests can find cancer and polyps, an abnormal growth in the lining of the colon. These polyps can turn into cancer over time. Screening tests include:

  • High-Sensitivity Fecal Occult Blood Testing (FOBT) – This test can be conducted at home using a kit obtained from your physician. The test is then returned to your physician to check for blood.
  • Flexible Sigmoidoscopy – A mild sedation is given and the physician checks for polyps or cancer in the lower third of the colon.
  • Colonoscopy – A mild sedation is given and the physician checks for polyps or cancer through the entire colon. During this test, the physician can find and remove most polyps and some cancer.

Your physician will determine the screening test that best meets your needs. The type of screening is based on several factors including your age, medical history, family history and general health.

Risk factors associated with colon cancer

Anything that increases your chances of developing cancer is called a risk factor. Some risk factors can be avoided, but many cannot. The more aware you are of the risk factors involved, the more proactive you can be in prevention. Risk factors for colorectal cancer include:

  • Being age 50 or older: Colorectal cancer is more likely to occur with age. More than 90 percent of people develop colon cancer. The average age at diagnosis is 72.
  • Colorectal polyps: Polyps are growths on the inner wall of the colon or rectum. They are common in people over age 50. Most polyps are not cancer, but some polyps can become cancer. Finding and removing polyps may reduce your risk of colorectal cancer.
  • Family history of colorectal cancer: Having a close relative (parent, brother, sister or child) who has colorectal cancer means that you are somewhat more likely to develop this disease.
  • Personal history of cancer: If you have already had colorectal cancer, you may develop colorectal cancer a second time. Also, women with a history of cancer of the ovary, uterus or breast are at a somewhat higher risk of developing colorectal cancer.
  • Ulcerative colitis or Crohn''s disease: People who have had a condition that causes inflammation of the colon (such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease) for many years are at increased risk of developing colorectal cancer.
  • Diet: Studies suggest that diets high in fat (especially animal fat) and low in calcium, folate and fiber may increase your risk of colorectal cancer. Also, some studies suggest that people who eat a diet very low in fruits and vegetables may have a higher risk of colorectal cancer.
  • Cigarette smoking: If you smoke cigarettes, you may be at increased risk of developing polyps and colorectal cancer.

Know the symptoms

You know your body better than anyone else. Sometimes there are no symptoms associated with colon cancer. But a common symptom of colorectal cancer is a change in bowel habits including:

  • Having diarrhea or constipation
  • Feeling that your bowel does not empty completely
  • Finding blood (either bright red or very dark) in your stool
  • Finding your stools are narrower than usual
  • Frequently having gas pains or cramps, or feeling full or bloated
  • Losing weight with no known reason
  • Feeling very tired all the time
  • Having nausea or vomiting

Although many of these symptoms are not due to cancer, it is important not to wait to feel pain before seeing a doctor. Anyone with these symptoms should see a doctor to be diagnosed and treated as early as possible.

If you are over the age of 50 or have a family history of colon cancer, talk with your physician about getting screened. For more information, call the Edwards Comprehensive Cancer Center at 304.399.6723.