About Colon Cancer

Are you at risk for colon cancer?

It has been shown that many colon cancer cases have a genetic component, meaning it “runs in the family” and you’re more likely to develop the disease if you have a parent, sibling or child who has colon cancer. If more than one family member has colon cancer, your risk is greater.

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Virginia Mason has a genetics team that specializes in this aspect of diagnosing and treating colon cancer with personalized treatment that takes into account family history and the genetic aspects of the disease.

While inherited gene mutations can increase risk, they don’t make cancer inevitable and only a small percentage of colon cancer is linked to gene mutations.

If you're concerned about your family's history of colon cancer, talk to your doctor and make sure you get screened regularly. You can also call us at (206) 341-0060 with any questions you may have.

Some risk factors for colon cancer you can control, others you cannot. Other factors that increase the risk of colon cancer include:

  • Older age. The great majority of people diagnosed with colon cancer are older than 50.
  • African-American race. African-Americans have a greater risk of colon cancer than do people of other races.
  • Alcohol. Heavy use of alcohol increases your risk of colon cancer.
  • Smoking. People who smoke may have an increased risk of colon cancer.
  • A personal history of colorectal cancer or polyps. If you've already had colon cancer or adenomatous polyps, you have a greater risk of colon cancer in the future.
  • Inflammatory intestinal conditions. Chronic inflammatory diseases of the colon, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, can increase your risk of colon cancer.
  • A sedentary lifestyle. If you're inactive, you're more likely to develop colon cancer. Getting regular physical activity may reduce your risk.
  • Low-fiber, high-fat diet. Colon cancer may be associated with a diet low in fiber and high in fat and calories. Research in this area has had mixed results. Some studies have found an increased risk of colon cancer in people who eat diets high in red meat and processed meat.
  • Obesity. People who are obese have an increased risk of colon cancer and an increased risk of dying from the cancer when compared with people considered normal weight.
  • Radiation therapy for cancer. Radiation therapy directed at the abdomen to treat previous cancers increases the risk of colon and rectal cancer.
  • Diabetes. People with diabetes and insulin resistance have an increased risk of colon cancer.

Lifestyle Changes Can Reduce Your Colon Cancer Risks

To reduce your risk of colon cancer, you can:

  • Start eating a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. These contain vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants, which may play a role in cancer prevention. A variety of fruits and vegetables means you will get an array of vitamins and nutrients.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation if at all. Limit the amount of alcohol to no more than one drink a day for women and two for men.
  • Stop smoking. Talk to your doctor about ways to quit that may work for you.
  • Exercise most days of the week. If you've been inactive, gradually build up the amount of time you exercise until you’ve reached 30 minutes of continuous activity. Try doing this every other day and add more days as you continue. Be sure to talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. If you are not at a healthy weight, aim to lose extra pounds slowly by increasing the amount of exercise you get along with reducing the number of calories you eat. If you are at a healthy weight, work to maintain it by combining a healthy diet with daily exercise.

Symptoms of Colon Cancer

Seek medical care if you experience any of these:

  • A change in bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation or a change in the consistency of your stool, that lasts longer than four weeks
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
  • A feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely
  • Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain
  • Weakness or fatigue

People with colon cancer often have no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. When symptoms appear, their severity may depend on the cancer's size and location in the large intestine. This is why regular screening is vital.

Generally, it’s recommended that colon cancer screenings begin at age 50. While some recent guidelines have lowered the recommended age of screening to 45, this has not yet been widely accepted. If there is a first degree relative (sibling or parent) with a colorectal cancer diagnosis, then screening should begin 10 years younger than the age of diagnosis for that relative's colorectal cancer.

Do you have any of the above symptoms of colon cancer? If so, please make an appointment with your doctor or call Virginia Mason at (206) 341-0060.