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Colon Cancer Awareness: Do you know your risk?

Colon Cancer
Colon Cancer Awareness: Are you at risk?
Colon Cancer
Colon cancer by the numbers:
  • The average age of diagnosis is 72.
  • 90% of new cases are in people 50 or older, however it can happen to men or women of any age.
  • Colon cancer rates have been increasing in young adults.
*Source: Colon Cancer Alliance  

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Colon Cancer Awareness: Are you at risk?

Written by Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by Kaiser Permanente

People in the early stages of colon cancer often experience no symptoms, making awareness about certain risk factors all the more important for early detection.

March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month, a time when physicians, hospitals and national health organizations remind Americans of the actions they can take to reduce their risks.

Colon cancer grows in the tissues of the colon, while rectal cancer grows in the large intestine near the anus, according to the National Cancer Institute. Both types of cancer are referred to as colorectal cancer. The cancers typically develop first as polyps, or abnormal growths, inside the colon or rectum, according to the Colon Cancer Alliance, a national prevention and awareness organization.

About 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer per year, and more than 50,000 people die from it annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Jeannine Benson, an internal medicine physician and primary care chief at Kaiser Permanente Edwards Medical Offices, said everyone is at risk for colon cancer. She said colon cancer screenings typically begin at age 50, but if a patient has additional risk factors — such as genetic syndromes, relatives with colon cancer or precancerous polyps, inflammatory bowel disease or other factors — screening might be recommended sooner.

A recent article in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute cites increasing colorectal cancer in younger adults due to unknown reasons.

“I recommend every patient meet with their primary care physician to review their family history and personal history to figure out the right time to start screening,” she said.

The American Cancer Society estimates 95,520 new cases of colon cancer and 39,910 new cases of rectal cancer in 2017, as well as about 50,260 colorectal cancer deaths this year. The lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 21 for men and 1 in 23 for women.

A lot of the same recommendations for a healthy lifestyle apply to lowering cancer risks, including colorectal cancers: Maintain a healthy body weight, avoid smoking, avoid excessive alcohol, get regular physical activity, eat a lot of fruits, vegetables, lean meats and fiber, Benson said.

Because most early-stage colon cancer is asymptomatic, Benson stresses the importance of screening for it.

“If we catch it in the early stages, then it is very treatable,” she said. “Symptoms of more advanced stages of colon cancer can include weight loss, anemia, abdominal pain, blood in the stool, weight loss and bowel obstructions.”

Catching colon cancer that’s already in advanced stages may require surgery along with chemotherapy.

“Again, this is why we stress regular colon cancer screening — the earlier we find it, the easier it is to treat,” she said.


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