You may think colon cancer is mainly a man’s disease, but the truth is, almost as many women as men are diagnosed with colorectal cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, each year in the U.S., about 64,000 women are diagnosed with colorectal cancer. It is the third most common cancer in men and women, and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths.
Your lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 20. It’s important to know the symptoms and how to prevent this easily preventable cancer.
Know the Symptoms of Colon Cancer
Although many times people show no signs of colon cancer, check with your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- A change in bowel habits (constipation, diarrhea, or a feeling that your bowel doesn’t completely empty)
- Stools that are narrower than usual
- Blood (bright red or very dark) in your stool
- Rectal discomfort
- Frequent gas pains, bloating, fullness, or cramps in your abdomen
- Weight loss
- Feeling very tired and weak
Can Colon Cancer Be Prevented?
Yes! Colon cancer is one cancer that can often be easily prevented. The reason? It almost always starts with a small growth called a polyp. When polyps are found early and removed during colonoscopy, colon cancer can be stopped before it even starts.
The very best way to find polyps is by having a colonoscopy. This procedure allows a gastroenterologist to both find and remove polyps at the same time. Most people should get their first colonoscopy at age 50. Those who have a family history of colorectal cancer or related cancers, and those with certain health conditions need to be checked at an earlier age.
While colonoscopy is the gold standard in screening, other tests to detect colon cancer are available and include: stool-based testing, flexible sigmoidoscopy and barium enema, and CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy). Talk to your doctor about which test is right for you.
Other Ways to Help Prevent Colon Cancer
Screening for and removing polyps is the best way to prevent colon cancer, but there are some lifestyle changes you can make to help reduce your risk:
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Stay physically active. Find creative ways to keep moving.
- Eat a well-balanced diet. Make fruits and vegetables a big part of your diet.
- Eat whole grains rather than refined grain products.
- Avoid processed meats.
- Limit red meat in your diet.
- Limit alcohol consumption.
- If you use tobacco, quit. Better yet, never start.