Most colon cancers begin as small polyps, detectable through regular cancer screening, such as colonoscopy. Regular screening and removal of polyps can eliminate the risk of colon cancer by up to 90%. Regular screening can also help detect colon cancer early, when it is more treatable.
Many people with colon cancer experience no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. When symptoms appear, they'll likely vary, depending on the size and location in your large intestine. When they do occur, signs and symptoms of colon cancer include:
- Change in bowel habits
- Rectal bleeding or bloody stools
- Persistent abdominal pain or discomfort
- Unexplained weight loss
Colon cancer occurs when cells in the colon become altered, though the cause of change is often unclear. Most often it begins as a polyp in the colon. Removing polyps before they become cancerous can prevent colon cancer. Other factors that may increase risk of colon cancer include:
- Age – Most people diagnosed are over 50, though it can occur in younger adults
- Race – African-Americans have a greater risk than other races
- IBD – Inflammatory bowel diseases can increase risk
- Lifestyle – Factors like low-fiber diet and sedentary lifestyle may increase risk
If you are experiencing signs of colon cancer, your doctor may recommend one or more diagnostic tests and procedures. Colonoscopy is the primary method of diagnosing colon cancer. If anything unusual is found, your doctor will take a biopsy for analysis.
The type of treatment your doctor recommends will depend largely on the stage of your colon cancer. The three primary options are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. If the cancer is localized in a polyp and in an early stage, your doctor may be able to remove it entirely. Chemotherapy is usually given after surgery if the cancer has spread.