Nearly all colon cancers begin as benign polyps that slowly develop into cancer. In many cases, colorectal cancer symptoms do not appear until the tumor is large. That is why screening colonoscopy is so critical in detecting polyps before they have turned into cancer. The symptoms of colorectal cancer include:
- Pain and tenderness in the abdomen
- Diarrhea, constipation or changes in bowel movements
- Blood in the stool, or narrow stools
- Weight loss for unknown reasons
Download this helpful screening guide for Colorectal Cancer and other prevalent cancer screenings.
Individuals at risk for colorectal cancer
Research has shown that some risk factors are present for developing colorectal cancer. These colorectal cancer risk factors include:
- Age – More than 90 percent of people with this disease are diagnosed after age 50. The average age of diagnosis is mid 60’s.
- Colorectal polyps – Most polyps are benign, but some can be cancerous. Consistently finding and removing polyps can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. Oftentimes, polyps are what become cancer.
- A family history – individuals who have close relatives with a history of colorectal cancer are more likely to develop the disease themselves.
- Behavioral risk factors – Including tobacco and alcohol, physical inactivity and obesity
Hereditary Colon Cancer
As mentioned above, a risk for colorectal cancer could be family history. About 10% of colon cancer cases are due to an inherited genetic susceptibility. Hereditary colon cancer can be divided into two broad categories: polyposis (many polyps) and nonpolyposis syndromes (few or no polyps). Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and MYH-associated polyposis (MAP) are the most prevalent of the former category, and Lynch syndrome (LS) is the most common of the latter. Features of hereditary colon cancer susceptibility in a family include one or more of the following: individuals with multiple colorectal polyps, multiple relatives on the same side of the family with colon or other LS-related cancers (rectal, uterine, ovarian, renal, or other gastrointestinal cancers), individuals with more than one primary tumor, and colon cancer diagnosed under age 50.
Early detection is key to survival
Colorectal cancer can be avoided if routine proper screening takes place. Hoag Family Cancer Institute recommends routine screening colonoscopies for men and women beginning at age 50, with subsequent intervals for retesting as determined by a physician.
What is a colonoscopy?
The gold standard in colorectal cancer screening is colonoscopy. A traditional screening colonoscopy is a short outpatient procedure that uses a flexible endoscope to travel through the colon to most accurately visualize abnormalities or polyps, and look for early signs of colorectal cancer. During the procedure, suspicious polyps can be removed, substantially reducing the risk of colorectal cancer over a patient’s lifetime.
While there are other screening options, such as a virtual screening colonoscopy – which utilizes CT scanning to detect polyps – non are superior to a conventional colonoscopy. Individuals receive a virtual colonoscopy for special circumstances, such as being too sick or weak for the more invasive conventional colonoscopy or being on blood thinners. However, if during a virtual colonoscopy a polyps or suspicious mass is detected, that individual will still need to go through a conventional colonoscopy to remove the polyp.
A conventional screening colonoscopy also acts as a means of colorectal cancer diagnosis. The polyps removed during a screening colonoscopy are biopsied to ensure that there are no signs of precancerous or cancerous changes.