Colorectal cancer, a cancer of the colon or rectum, is the second leading cancer killer yet one of the most preventable. Most cases start out in the lower part of the digestive system as abnormal but benign cell growths called polyps. While most polyps never cause problems, some may become cancerous. It is estimated that about 30% of middle aged or older adults have one or more colon polyps. In the early stages, precancerous polyps and colorectal cancer often have no symptoms.
There are several types of screenings that can indicate the presence of benign or cancerous polyps and if caught early, colorectal cancer survival rates can be as high as 90%. Because the early stages of colorectal cancer often do not present symptoms, the American College of Gastroenterologists recommends a baseline colorectal cancer screening for:
- Adults at age 50
- African-American adults at age 45.
If you have additional risk factors such as a family history of colon or rectal cancer or if you are a heavy smoker, earlier screening may be recommended.
Symptoms of colorectal cancer may be caused by conditions other than cancer such as irritable bowel syndrome or diverticulitis but if you have any of the following symptoms, please talk with your doctor:
- A change in your bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation or a change in the consistency of your stool for more than a couple of weeks
- Narrow stools
- Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
- Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain
- Abdominal pain with a bowel movement
- A feeling that your bowel doesn't empty completely
- Unexplained weight loss
- Anemia especially for men and postmenopausal women