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How to Catch Colon Cancer Early

Mar 02, 2023

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To observe Colon Cancer Awareness Month, we’re teaching you how to detect colon cancer in its earliest and most treatable stages. Read on to learn about early signs of colon cancer and how you can be proactive today.

Rates of colon cancer have steadily increased since the 1980s in young adults. In fact, 2020 research found that 12% of all new colon cancer diagnoses were among patients between ages 20 and 39. While the cancer is still rare enough to affect far less than 1% of the group, it’s worth noting that this increase is juxtaposed against an overall decrease in colon cancer rates among older patients. 

With March being Colon Cancer Awareness Month, the team of oncology experts at Arizona Center for Cancer Care would like to spread awareness of the best practices for detecting colon cancer early. Our team provides cancer detection and treatment in Avondale, Chandler, Gilbert, Glendale, Mesa, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Surprise, Anthem, Peoria, Fountain Hills, Wickenburg, Apache Junction, Sun City, Sun City West, Goodyear, and Tempe, Arizona. 

Just like all forms of cancer, colon cancer grows and can eventually spread throughout your body. Colon cancer often starts as benign colon polyps which are quite easy to remove. Even if they’ve progressed into cancer, surgery alone is sufficient for treatment in early stages. 

Regardless of your age, now is an excellent time to ponder your colon cancer risks and consider the best practices for finding colon cancer early. 

Talk to your doctor about screenings

One possible reason why colon cancer rates are on a general decline in older adults, and why death rates among colon cancer patients are declining, is because of the widespread awareness about screenings. Cancer screenings search for signs of cancer before it spreads or causes any symptoms that you’d notice. 

Most medical organizations and experts recommend starting regular colon cancer screenings between ages 45 and 50. Your provider might suggest starting screenings earlier or getting them more frequently if your risk for colon cancer is above average. 

There are multiple strategies experts use to screen for colon cancer but the most common is a colonoscopy. Other possible tests you might undergo for colon cancer screening are:

  • Stool sample tests (e.g. fecal occult blood tests, DNA stool tests)
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy
  • Computed tomography (CT) colonography

Digital rectal exams, which were previously used for colon cancer screenings, are no longer considered an effective way of detecting early colon cancer. 

If your provider detects abnormalities during a colonoscopy or any other screening test, they inform you of the results and can explain your surgical options to remove abnormal masses. 

Preventing Colon cancer with healthy lifestyle

Eating a healthy diet is another important step in preventing colon cancer. Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, while limiting red meats, processed foods, and saturated fats can help reduce your risk. Additionally, maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce your risk as well, so it is important to exercise regularly and eat a balanced diet. It is also important to limit your alcohol intake and quit smoking if you are a smoker. Both can increase your risk of colon cancer, so it is important to limit your alcohol intake to no more than two drinks per day for men and one for women, and to quit smoking as soon as possible. 

Know your risks

As colon cancer rises among young adult patients, you might have some concerns about starting screening during middle age. It’s important to be aware of any factors that put you at an increased risk of colon cancer and to talk to your doctor about what you can do to mitigate your risk. I some cases, your doctor may recommend aspirin to help reduce your risk of colon cancer.

Some factors that increase your risk of colon cancer are:

  • A family history of colon cancer
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • An imbalanced diet
  • Smoking

Awareness of risks is the first step toward developing a trustworthy screening regimen and making any helpful lifestyle changes that may lower your risk. 

Don’t ignore symptoms

Be aware of your bathroom habits and any changes in them that could be signs of colon cancer. Even though cancer symptoms can be nonexistent in early stages, certain warning signs are detectable if you know what to look for. 

If at any point you experience these symptoms or changes, report them to your physician right away:

  • Blood in your stool
  • Narrow stools
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Anemia

These symptoms don’t always indicate colorectal cancer: In fact they can come from a variety of different causes. But you’re better off reporting them just in case because of the undeniable benefits of early detection for cancer. 

Treatment of Colon Cancer

Patients with early stage cancer typically treated with surgery only. However, chemotherapy fpr 3-6 months may be needed if cancer has spread to lymph nodes at the time of surgery. Patients with cancer that has spread to other organs may need  a combination of chemotherapy and targeted therapy. Thanks to the recent advances in treatment, a subset of patients with a tumor marker called "microsatellite instability" may be amenable to treatment with immunotherapy only. There are numerous ongoing clinical trials trying to improve outcomes in colon cancer.

Schedule your next visit to Arizona Center for Cancer Care online or over the phone for more information on colon cancer screenings and awareness today.