Colon cancer usually affects older adults, although it can occur at any age. It usually begins as small, noncancerous (benign) clusters of cells called polyps that form inside the colon. Over time, some of these polyps can turn into colon cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is cancer that originates in the colon or rectum. Depending on where these cancers start, they may also be called colon cancer or rectal cancer. Colon cancer and rectal cancer are often grouped together because they have many common features.
Polyps can be small and cause few or no symptoms. For this reason, doctors recommend regular screening tests to help prevent colon cancer by detecting and removing polyps before they turn into cancer.
Signs and symptoms of colon cancer include the following:
frequent changes in your bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation
or a change in the consistency of your stools
bleeding from the rectum or blood in the stool
persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas, or pain
feeling that the bowel has not emptied completely
weakness or tiredness
weight loss for no apparent reason
If colon cancer does develop, a number of treatments are available to help control it, including surgery, radiation therapy, and drug treatments such as chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy.
A persistent change in your bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation, may be a sign of colon cancer.
The Mayo Clinic published a series of risk factors that may increase the risk of contracting the disease:
Personal history of colorectal cancer or polyps
If you have already had colon cancer or noncancerous colon polyps, you are at higher risk of developing colon cancer in the future.
Inflammatory bowel conditions
Chronic inflammatory diseases of the colon, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, can increase the risk of colon cancer.
Inherited syndromes that increase the risk of colon cancer
Certain gene mutations passed down through generations of your family can significantly increase your colon cancer risk. Only a small percentage of colon cancer cases are linked to inherited genes. The most common inherited syndromes that increase the risk of colon cancer are familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and Lynch syndrome, also known as hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC).
Family history of colon cancer
You are more likely to get colon cancer if any of your blood relatives have had the disease. If more than one family member has had colon or rectal cancer, your risk is even higher.
Low fiber, high fat diet
Colon cancer and rectal cancer may be associated with a typical Western diet, which tends to be low in fiber and high in fat and calories. Research in this area has produced mixed results. Some studies have found that people whose diets are high in red meat and processed meat have an increased risk of colon cancer.
A sedentary lifestyle
Inactive people are more likely to get colon cancer. Getting regular physical activity can reduce the risk of colon cancer.
Not all cancer symptoms are obvious
People with diabetes or insulin resistance are at increased risk of colon cancer.
Obese people have a higher risk of colon cancer and a higher risk of dying from colon cancer than people who are considered to be of normal weight.
People who smoke may have an increased risk of colon cancer.
Excessive alcohol consumption increases the risk of colon cancer.
Radiation therapy against cancer
Radiation therapy to the abdomen for treatment of previous cancer increases the risk of stomach cancer.
Lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of colon cancer
There are steps you can take to lower your risk of getting colon cancer.
Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants, which may play a role in cancer prevention. Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables so you can include a variety of vitamins and nutrients.
If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation
If you choose to drink alcohol, limit the amount you drink to no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
If you’re currently at a healthy weight, work to maintain it through a combination of a healthy diet and daily physical activity.
Talk to your doctor about ways to prevent it that may work for you.
exercise almost every day of the week
Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise most days. If you’ve been inactive, start slowly and gradually build up to 30 minutes. Also, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.
Maintain a healthy weight
If you’re currently at a healthy weight, work to maintain it through a combination of a healthy diet and daily physical activity. If you need to lose weight, ask your doctor about healthy ways to reach your goal. Try to lose weight slowly by increasing the amount of physical activity you do and reducing the number of calories you eat.