In both men and women, colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the third leading cause of cancer death, with more than 150,000 cases in the United States each year. The overall incidence of colon cancer in adults over the age of fifty is decreasing. However, it is increasingly being found in people under the age of fifty. Colonoscopies are the gold standard of screening methods for colorectal cancer, but they aren’t routinely used until fifty years of age. Until then, knowing the signs and symptoms can help you detect colon cancer early.
Signs and symptoms of colon cancer include fatigue accompanied by unexplained iron deficiency, obvious blood in stool, dark stool, substantial change in bowel habits, unexplained abdominal pain and/or unusual weight loss and should signal you to be immediately evaluated by your primary care physician. Symptoms of colorectal cancer often do not occur until the late stages of the disease, when treatment and curing it may be more difficult. Unfortunately, in the United States, about 20% of patients with colon cancer present with the disease that has already spread beyond the colon at the time of diagnosis and might cause symptoms related to other organs: usually the peritoneum, liver or lungs. Risks for developing colorectal cancer include a family history of the disease or other associated cancers, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, a high intake of red meat, smoking, alcohol and prior exposure to abdominal radiation. Regular physical activity, diet risk in fruits, vegetables has been shown to have a protective effect.
Individuals who have a close family member who was diagnosed with colorectal cancer before the age of fifty or have two or more family members who have been diagnosed with the disease may be at higher risk for the disease. If individuals learn that they have a history of cancer in the family, especially through close relatives, it should be discussed with their primary care physician. Depending on variables such as the form of cancer, which family member(s) was diagnosed and at what age, the patient may be referred for advanced genetic counseling. A genetic counselor can help determine if an individual should start screening for colon cancer early, and if so, at what age is recommended to begin.
Cone Health has an exceptional network of primary care gastroenterologists and genetic counselors who are dedicated to educating the community about the importance of colorectal cancer screening and making sure they get colonoscopies within the recommended time frame.
Dr. Gautam Kale is an oncologist and hematologist at the Cone Health Cancer Center. Dr. Kale completed medical school at B.J. Medical College at the University of Pune, India. He completed his residency at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and his fellowship in hematology and oncology at the University of Missouri/Ellis Fischel Cancer Center. Dr. Kale also received a Master of Science in biomedical engineering from the University of Tennessee and the University of Memphis.