Colon Cancer Awareness: Do you know your risk?
- 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.
Colon Cancer Awareness: Are you at risk?
Written by 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. Carol Venable, internal medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente Frisco Medical Offices, said the incidence of colon cancer increases with age. She noted that a recent article in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute cites increasing colorectal cancer in younger adults due to unknown reasons.
“Family history is a significant risk factor for colon cancer, and there are even several hereditary syndromes that increase the risk of developing this cancer,” she said. “Inflammatory bowel disease also is associated with an increased risk of colon cancer. Obesity is probably the most common modifiable risk factor that has an association with colon cancer.”
For an average risk person, colon cancer screenings typically begin at age 50 with either stool card testing or colonoscopy, Venable said. For those with a family history of colon cancer or risk factors like inflammatory bowel disease, screening starts at a younger age.
“One of the reasons that screening for colon cancer is so important is that symptoms often do not occur until later in the disease process,” Venable said. “Early screening can detect adenomatous polyps or early colon cancers that are still small enough to be curable with removal.”
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.
“Some studies have suggested a decreased colon cancer risk in folks with diets higher in fruits and vegetables and lower in red meats, but not all data have been consistent on this subject,” Venable said. “We do know that tobacco use and alcohol use can be associated with increased cancer risks. “
Venable said the outlook for colon cancer patients depends on the stage at which it is diagnosed. Early stage colon cancer is usually highly treatable and potentially curable, while advanced stage colon cancer can be very difficult to treat and even more difficult to cure, she said.
“Colon cancer screening is important for every adult to consider,” she said. “I advise patients to discuss their personal risk of colon cancer with their primary care physicians so that a timeline for screening can be created.”
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