More than 95,000 people were diagnosed with colon cancer in 2016, according to American Cancer Society statistics. Some of them only learned that they had cancer following a colonoscopy, a routine test that can detect it in its earliest stages. Dr. Ilyas Memon, MD, your Woodlands and Conroe, TX gastroenterologist at Ilyas Memon, MD, shares information about colon cancer and explains why being informed is so important.
Colon cancer symptoms aren't always obvious
Unlike some other forms of cancer, you may not notice anything unusual during the early stages of colon cancer. If it progresses, you may experience:
- Bowel Habit Changes: Colon cancer can affect your bowel movements. Constipation or diarrhea that lasts more than four weeks may be a sign of cancer.
- Incomplete Evacuation: If you have colon cancer, it may seem as if your bowel is never empty, even if you've just had a bowel movement.
- Blood in Your Stool: Blood in your stool may be a sign of hemorrhoids, but can also be an indication that you have colon cancer.
- Fatigue: It's not unusual to feel weak and tired if you have colon cancer.
- Weight Loss: Have you recently lost weight without trying? Unexplained weight loss is always a cause for concern and can accompany colon cancer.
Six Questions That Could Save Your Life (or the Life of Someone You Love)
Test your knowledge about colorectal cancer (CRC) screening. If you think the answer is true or mostly true, answer true. If you think the answer is false or mostly false, answer false.
1. Colorectal cancer is predominantly a "man's disease," affecting many more men than women annually.
FALSE. Colorectal cancer affects an equal number of men and women. Many women, however, think of CRC as a disease only affecting men and might be unaware of important information about screening and preventing colorectal cancer that could save their lives, says the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy.
2. Only women over the age of 50 who are currently experiencing some symptoms or problems should be screened for colorectal cancer or polyps.
FALSE. Beginning at age 50, all men and women should be screened for colorectal cancer EVEN IF THEY ARE EXPERIENCING NO PROBLEMS OR SYMPTOMS.
3. A colonoscopy screening exam typically requires an overnight stay in a hospital.
FALSE. A colonoscopy screening exam is almost always done on an outpatient basis. A mild sedative is usually given before the procedure and then a flexible, slender tube is inserted into the rectum to look inside the colon. The test is safe and the procedure itself typically takes less than 45 minutes.
4. Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.
TRUE. After lung cancer, colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Annually, approximately 150,000 new cases of colorectal cancer are diagnosed in the United States and 50,000 people die from the disease. It has been estimated that increased awareness and screening would save at least 30,000 lives each year.
5. Tests used for screening for colon cancer include digital rectal exam, stool blood test, flexible sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy.
TRUE. These tests are used to screen for colorectal cancer even before there are symptoms. Talk to your healthcare provider about which test is best for you. Current recommended screening options* include:
Beginning at age 50, men and women should have:
- An annual occult blood test on spontaneously passed stool (at a minimum);
- A flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years; or,
- A complete colonoscopy every 10 years.
Important: You may need to begin periodic screening colonoscopy earlier than age 50 years if you have a personal or family history of colorectal cancer, polyps or long-standing ulcerative colitis.
6. Colon cancer is often preventable.
TRUE. Colorectal cancer is highly preventable. Colonoscopy may detect polyps (small growths on the lining of the colon). Removal of these polyps (by biopsy or snare polypectomy) results in a major reduction in the likelihood of developing colorectal cancer in the future.
If you're experiencing any of the symptoms of colon cancer, or you've reached your 50th birthday, it's important to schedule a gastroenterology visit and a colon cancer screening. Call Dr. Memon, your Conroe and The Woodlands, TX gastroenterologist at Ilyas Memon, MD, to schedule an appointment.