Colon cancer, what to look out for
Dr Tendai Zuze
COLON cancer is a cancer that occurs in the colon (large intestines) or rectum. It affects men and women of all racial and ethnic groups, and is most often found in people 50 years or older. However, incidence in those younger than 50 is on the rise. This disease takes the lives of more than 50 000 people every year.
|People with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop colon cancer. Although no one knows the exact cause of colon cancer, we do know this disease is not contagious. Pay particular attention to these factors that may increase your risk:|
Age over 50years: Colon cancer becomes more common as people get older. In fact, more than 90 percent of people with this disease are diagnosed after age 50. The average age at diagnosis is 72.
Family history of polyps: If you or a family member has a history of polyps, you should be screened more frequently as this puts you at a higher risk for colon cancer.
Family history of colon cancer: First degree relatives (parents, brothers, sisters or children) of a person with a history of colon cancer are more likely to develop this disease, especially if the relative was diagnosed at a young age. If many close relatives have a history of colon cancer, the risk is even greater.
Genetic predisposition: Some people have changes in their genes which put them at risk of colon cancer.
Inflammatory bowel disease: If you have a condition that causes inflammation of the colon you may be at increased risk of developing colon cancer.
Personal history of cancer: If you have already had colon cancer, you may be at increased risk for developing the disease a second time. Also, women with a history of ovarian, breast or uterine cancer are at a somewhat higher risk of developing colon cancer.
Diet and lifestyle: Studies suggest that diets high in red meat and fat (especially animal fat) and low in calcium, folate and fibre may increase risk of colon cancer. Also, some studies suggest people who eat a diet very low in fruits and vegetables may have a higher risk of colon cancer
Cigarette smoking: A person who smokes cigarettes may be at increased risk of developing polyps and colon cancer. Colon cancer first develops with few, if any, symptoms. Be proactive and talk to your doctor.
If symptoms are present, they may include:
Change in bowel habits; including diarrhoea, constipation or a change in stool consistency
Persistent abdominal discomfort; such as cramps, gas, pain, feeling bloated or feeling that your bowel does not empty completely.
Rectal bleeding; finding blood in your stool, whether fresh red or dark altered blood.
Weakness; with or without loss of weight, nausea or vomiting.
The encouraging news is that a lot of colon cancer can be prevented. Here are a few things you could do:
- Get Screened: Getting regular screening tests for colon cancer is the single best way to protect yourself from the disease. It can catch cancer early, when it is most treatable, and help prevent the disease by finding abnormal growths called polyps that can turn into cancer. Most people begin getting tested at age 50. People with a family history of colon cancer or other important risk factors may begin testing at younger ages and get tested more often.
- Maintain a Healthy Weight: Except for smoking, nothing else raises the overall risk of cancer more than being overweight. At least 11 different cancers have been linked to weight gain and obesity, including colon cancer. An ideal goal is to weigh around what you did when you were 18 years old. Realistically, if you’ve put on weight, the first goal is to stop gaining weight, which has health benefits by itself.
- Don’t Smoke: It hardly needs saying anymore, but not smoking is the single best thing you can do for your health. On top of raising the risk of serious diseases like heart disease, stroke and emphysema, smoking is a major cause of at least 14 different cancers, including colon cancer
- Be physically active: Regular activity lowers the risk of many serious diseases, including colon cancer, and provides a good mental boost. Any amount of physical activity is better than none, but it’s good to aim for around 30 minutes or more of moderate activity each day. Choose things you enjoy, like brisk walking, cycling, dancing or gardening.
- Avoid alcohol: Alcohol is a strange thing when it comes to health. It’s heart-healthy in moderation but can increase the risk of colon and other cancers at even low levels. Heavy drinkers should try to cut down or quit. If you don’t drink already don’t start.
- Limit Red Meat, Especially Processed Meat: Eating too much red meat – like steak, hamburger and pork – increases the risk of colon cancer. Processed meats – like bacon, sausage and polony – raise risk even more. Try to eat no more than three servings each week.
Less is even better. If you are worried about colon cancer, or if you need screening for the same, please visit your doctor.