Clinic: Are there ways to prevent colon cancer? What about
early symptoms to watch for? I just turned 50, and Iíve
heard colon cancer is more common as you get older. Iíd like
to lower my risk of getting this disease as much as possible.
A: There are
some lifestyle changes that may lower your risk of developing
colon cancer. But one of the most important steps you can take
at your age is getting the recommended colon cancer screening.
Although early-stage colon cancer rarely causes symptoms,
screening exams can detect the disease early ó sometimes
even before itís become cancer ó when it often can be
Colon cancer is
common, affecting about 1 in 20 people. In most cases,
symptoms of colon cancer, such as persistent abdominal pain,
rectal bleeding or blood in the stool, donít appear until
the disease is in its advanced stages.
Age is one of
the most significant risk factors for colon cancer. Most cases
are diagnosed in people older than 50. Therefore, screening
begins at 50 for people with an average risk of developing
colon cancer. Some people with an increased risk, such as
those with a family history of colon cancer, may need to start
the most common colon cancer screening test. During a
colonoscopy, a long, flexible tube, called a colonoscope, is
inserted into the rectum. A tiny video camera at the tip of
the tube allows your health care provider to detect changes or
abnormalities inside the entire colon.
cancer screening tests are available, too. One is computerized
tomography (CT) colonography ó sometimes called a virtual
colonoscopy. It uses CT imaging to produce a detailed view of
the inside of the colon and rectum. It doesnít require
insertion of a scope into the colon.
alternative is the fecal immunochemical test. This lab test
checks stool samples for microscopic amounts of blood shed
from colon cancer that may not be visible to the human eye.
screening option is the multitarget stool DNA test. This test
looks for DNA molecules that colon cancer and polyps may shed
into stool, in addition to hemoglobin. The test can be done
from home and doesnít require bowel preparation or
If results from
a stool DNA test, fecal immunochemical test or CT colonography
are positive, a follow-up evaluation with a full colonoscopy
The purpose of
colon cancer screening is to detect abnormalities within the
colon, such as polyps or early-stage cancers. Not all colon
polyps develop into cancer, but most colon cancers begin as
polyps. Promptly detecting and removing polyps significantly
reduces the risk of developing colon cancer.
The results of
your initial screening exam determine how often you need
follow-up screening. In addition to getting those tests as
recommended, you can take steps in your daily life to lower
your risk of colon cancer.
alcohol use, obesity, lack of exercise and smoking can raise
the risk of colon cancer. Therefore, if you drink alcohol, do
so only in moderation. That means no more than one drink a day
for women and no more than two for men. Donít smoke. If you
do, talk to your health care provider about ways to quit.
If you are at a
healthy weight, work to maintain your weight by combining a
healthy diet with daily exercise. Try to get at least 30
minutes of exercise most days. If you need to lose weight, ask
your health care provider about healthy ways to achieve your
There are some
colon cancer risk factors you canít control, such as family
history and medical history. If you have questions about your
risk of colon cancer, or youíre not sure which screening
option is right for you, talk to your health care provider.