Colon cancer is currently the #2 cancer killer of men and women in Canada. However, 90% of cases are treatable if caught early. Find out what you should know to fight back against this disease.
What is colon cancer?
Most colon cancers start in the cells that line the large bowel (colon and rectum). Initially, these growths or polyps are usually benign and can easily be removed. However, if left these growths can become cancerous. Colon cancer usually grows slowly and in a predictable way. It is curable when diagnosed at an early stage.
What factors increase the risk of developing colon cancer?
- Age > 50 years old
- Having polyps
- Family history in a parent sibling or child before the age of 45
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease)
- Diet high in red meat
- Diet high in processed meat (ham, sausage, hot dogs)
- Alcohol consumption
- Physical inactivity
Some people develop colon cancer without having any of these risk factors.
Is there anything I can do to lower my risk?
It has been shown that a diet high in vegetables and fruit will decrease your risk. A diet high in fiber and low in animal fats may also decrease risk, but more research is necessary to prove this.
Symptoms of Colon Cancer
Possible symptoms include:
- A change in bowel habits
- Blood in the stool (bright red or dark)
- Diarrhea, constipation or feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
- Stools that are narrower than usual
- Unexplained weight loss
- Abdominal discomfort (gas pains, bloating)
Keep in mind other minor problems can cause some of these symptoms. Testing is required to make a diagnosis and a doctor should be seen if any of these symptoms arise!
How do we screen for colon cancer?
There are two types of screening tests that are used to detect colon cancer.
- The fecal occult blood test (FOBT) tests for blood within the stool. This test is completed at home over the course of 3 days and then returned to a lab.
- A colonoscopy is a procedure which enables the physician to view the inside of the colon with a camera. Prior to a colonoscopy, the bowel must be emptied using over the counter medications. Your pharmacist can help you locate these products within the store and give helpful advice on how to use them.
Who should be screened for colon cancer and how often?
Average risk individuals should begin to have a FOBT at the age of 50. This test should be completed every 2 years. Stool tests help to identify polyps before they become cancerous.
High risk individuals (those with a fist degree relative with colon cancer, those with IBD, or those with polyps) should discuss an individual monitoring plan with their doctor. These individuals require more frequent screening.
Ask your pharmacist for more information on colon cancer today!