According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer, or cancer of the colon and/or rectum, is the leading cause of cancer death for men and women. However, over the last decade, medical advancements have helped to decrease the number of people that die each year from colorectal cancer. The good news is that when caught early, colorectal cancer can often be effectively treated and does not become a death sentence. The challenge is that many people ignore the early warning signs and delay medical screenings that could save their life. When it comes to colorectal cancer, knowledge is power. We’ve outlined the early warning signs and the most important thing you can do to improve your chances of identifying colorectal cancer early.
What Exactly Is Colorectal Cancer?
Colorectal cancer starts at the end of the large intestines (known as the colon) or in the rectum. At first, small non-cancerous cells form into groups called polyps. For some, these polyps develop into cancerous cells. These cancer cells may then spread to the wall of the colon, into blood vessels, or lymph vessels, which are gateways to other parts of the body.
Early Warning Signs of Colorectal Cancer
The exact causes of colorectal cancer are not known, but there are lifestyle and hereditary factors that contribute to the likelihood of developing the disease. An unhealthy diet, smoking, heavy alcohol use, and a sedentary lifestyle increase your risk. A family history of colorectal cancer is also an indicator of increased risk.
It’s important to note that a significant challenge in diagnosing colorectal cancer early is that many people do not experience any early symptoms. However, those that do have early warning symptoms often experience:
- A change in your bowel movements like frequent bouts of diarrhea or constipation.
- Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
- Frequent gas, bloating, stomach pain, or cramps
- Feeling like your bowels don’t completely empty when you use the restroom
- Unexpected weight loss
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to see your doctor right away.
The Best Defense Against Colorectal Cancer
Medical experts agree that the best defense in detecting colorectal cancer early is to have a colorectal screening test, the most well-known test being a colonoscopy. An alarming 2 in 3 people are never screened for colorectal cancer according to the American Cancer Society even though the survival rate jumps to 90% with early detection. It’s recommended that everyone have a baseline colonoscopy at age 50 and every ten years after that unless you experience symptoms or are at increased risk. Although some people may be hesitant to receive a colorectal cancer screening because of the sensitive nature of the screenings, it is the best way to detect what, for many, is a “silent killer.”
Colorectal cancer is a concerning disease, especially since so many do not have early warning signs. It's imperative if you do experience symptoms, have an increased risk, or are 50 years of age or older, that you receive a colorectal can screening. Remember, early detection gives you the best chance for effective treatment. For more information about colorectal cancer or colorectal screenings, visit the Augusta Health Colon Clinic or call (540) 332-5526 to schedule a screening colonoscopy.