What are symptoms of colon cancer and how can I reduce the risk?

(AP photo/Tim Boyd)

What are the symptoms of colon cancer?

Click for more information on colon cancer screening.
Click for more information on colon cancer screening.

Almost all colorectal cancers begin as precancerous polyps (abnormal growths) in the colon or rectum. Such polyps can be present in the colon for years before invasive cancer develops. Colorectal polyps and colorectal cancer don’t always cause symptoms, especially at first.

Someone could have polyps or colorectal cancer and not know it. That is why getting screened regularly for colorectal cancer is so important.

If you have symptoms, they may include:

  • Blood in or on your stool (bowel movement).
  • Stomach pain, aches, or cramps that don’t go away.
  • Losing weight and you don’t know why.

If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor. They may be caused by something other than cancer. The only way to know what is causing them is to see your doctor.

Click here for basic information about colon cancer.

What can I do to reduce the risk of colon cancer?

Virtual Colonoscopy
Virtual Colonoscopy (AP Photo/ Courtesy of Dr. Perry J. Pickhardt/ University of Wisconsin Medical School)

Colorectal cancer screening can find precancerous polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. In this way, colorectal cancer is prevented.

Screening can also find colorectal cancer early, when there is a greater chance that treatment will be most effective and lead to a cure.

Research is underway to find out if changes to your diet can reduce your colorectal cancer risk. Medical experts don’t agree on the role of diet in preventing colorectal cancer, but often recommend a diet low in animal fats and high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to reduce the risk of other chronic diseases, such as coronary artery disease and diabetes. This diet also may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.

Also, researchers are examining the role of certain medicines and supplements, including aspirin, calcium, vitamin D, and selenium in preventing colorectal cancer.

Some studies suggest that people may reduce their risk of developing colorectal cancer by increasing physical activity, limiting alcohol consumption, and avoiding tobacco.

Overall, the most effective way to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer is by having regular colorectal cancer screening tests beginning at age 50.

RELATED LINK | Find out more about the screening process for colon cancer

Colorectal Cancer Risk by Age

The risk of getting colorectal cancer increases with age and is greater in men than in women. The tables below show the percentage of men or women (how many out of 100) who will get colorectal cancer over different time periods. The time periods are based on the person’s current age.

For example, go to the men’s current age 60. The table shows 1.26% of men who are now 60 years old will get colorectal cancer sometime during the next 10 years. That is, 1 or 2 out of every 100 men who are 60 years old today will get colorectal cancer by the age of 70.

Percent of U.S. Men Who Develop Colorectal Cancer over 10-, 20-, and 30-Year Intervals According to Their Current Age, 2009–2011
Current Age 10 Years 20 Years 30 Years
30 0.07 0.32 0.97
40 0.26 0.91 2.04
50 0.68 1.84 3.39
60 1.26 2.93 4.20
70 1.96 3.46 N/A

Source: Howlader N, Noone AM, Krapcho M, Garshell J, Miller D, Altekruse SF, Kosary CL, Yu M, Ruhl J, Tatalovich Z,Mariotto A, Lewis DR, Chen HS, Feuer EJ, Cronin KA (eds). SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975–2011,External Web Site Icon National Cancer Institute. Bethesda, MD, http://seer.cancer.gov/csr/1975_2011/browse_csr.php?sectionSEL=6&pageSEL=sect_06_table.19.html,External Web Site Icon based on November 2013 SEER data submission, posted to the SEER Web site, April 2014.

For more information on colorectal cancer, visit the CDC.gov page here.

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