Colon cancer is the second-leading cause of death from cancer. During the month of March, health professionals are working to raise awareness of the disease by commemorating Colon Cancer Awareness Month.
Doctor Mangalore Subba Rao with IU Health says people who have colon cancer often don’t realize it. “Colon cancers are initially asymptomatic,” he says. “You have no symptom whatsoever; you feel everything is hunky-dory. When it becomes advanced cancer, they will have some anemia, some rectal bleeding, some abdominal pain, loss of appetite, loss of weight, change in the bowel habits into diarrhea, sometimes chronic constipation.”
He says a person’s chances of survival are much better if the disease is caught early, and that’s where regular screenings come in. Dr. Subba Rao says doctors can analyze stool samples for signs of potential problems, but the “gold standard” for cancer screening is the colonoscopy, “I think everyone should get their colonoscopy done definitely by age 50, and if your family or any relative had colon cancer, make sure that you get the colonoscopy done at least 10 years before their occurrence of colon cancer.”
He says knowing your family history goes a long way in determining your risk for the disease, “The rule goes by this: three-two-one. Three members of the family are involved in the cancer; one is a first-degree relative. Number two: two generations are involved. One: one member who got the cancer is less than 50 years. If you have anything something like this, watch out, because that can be Lynch syndrome.” Not only does this put people at a greater risk for colon cancer, but women with this syndrome also have a higher risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer.
While family history is the greatest factor when it comes to colon cancer, Dr. Subba Rao says things like diet and exercise can also make a difference.