Colon Cancer Screening Saves Lives

Colon Cancer Screening Saves Lives  

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States1. It includes cancers found in the large intestine (colon) and rectum (the lower part of the large bowel). Colon cancer often starts as a small polyp, a growth of extra tissue. Some polyps can become cancer if not removed.

Colon cancer often has no symptoms, especially in its early stages. If there are symptoms, they are likely to be:

  • Dark blood in or on your stool (solid waste when you go to the bathroom).
  • Changes in bowel habits (loose, frequent stools or can’t pass stool).
  • Rectal bleeding.
  • Cramping or belly pain.
  • Bloating in your belly.
  • Feeling tired, not hungry and/or losing weight without trying.

There is good news, however. The rates of new colon cancer cases and deaths for adults age 50 and older are falling. One important reason is that more people are getting screened for it2. Screening, which is testing before there are any symptoms, helps find polyps before they turn into cancer. And if cancer is found early, treatment may work better.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all men and women get screened for colon cancer starting at age 50. Some risk factors, which are habits or conditions that can increase the chance of colon cancer, are:

  • Family history of the disease.
  • Being age 50 and older.
  • Drinking too much alcohol.
  • Being overweight.
  • Not being active.
  • Smoking.

Here are different ways to be screened for colon cancer:

  • Colonoscopy, every 10 years: a test in which the doctor uses a thin, lighted tube to see the end of the large intestine.
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy, every five years: a test to look into the s-shaped curve in the large intestine.
  • Fecal occult blood test (FOBT), every year: a test to check for blood in the stool.
  • Fecal immunochemical test (FIT), every year: a test to look for a specific type of blood in your stool which helps identify if you have any polyps in your colon.

Talk to your doctor and find out which screening is right for you.

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
2 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services