Questions about Colon Cancer

What is colon cancer?

Colon cancer refers to cancers in the colon or rectum, which together make up the large intestine. Colorectal cancer can begin anywhere in the large intestine. Most colorectal cancers begin as polyps — abnormal growths that may become cancers over a long period of time. They affect men and women equally and are the second leading cancer killer in the U.S. Their exact cause is not yet known and about 75% occur in people with no known risk factors.

What are the symptoms?

Colorectal polyps and cancer don’t always cause symptoms, especially at first. If there are symptoms, they may include blood in or on your stool, abdominal pain, aches, or cramps that don’t go away, change in the bowel movements to either diarrhea or constipation or unexplained weight loss. A personal or family history of colorectal polyps, cancer, or inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease) also increases your risk for developing colorectal cancer. Most people with polyps or cancer do not know it. That is why getting screened regularly is so important.

Why screen for colorectal cancer?

Scientific evidence strongly indicates that having regular screening tests can save your life. Screening tests allow physicians to find precancerous polyps in the colon and rectum and remove them before they turn into cancer. Screening tests find cancer early, when treatment works best and the chance for a full recovery is very high.

What is a colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is one of several screening tests recommended by the U. S. Preventive Task Force for men and women starting at age 50 or younger, depending on your risk factors. The test checks for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and entire colon. During a colonoscopy, the doctor uses a long, thin, flexible, lighted tube to check for, and if appropriate, remove polyps or some cancers inside the rectum and the colon. It has been proven to reduce deaths from colorectal cancer, and is a safe and well-tolerated procedure.

Dr. Fern is a board-certified gastroenterologist on staff at Missouri Baptist Medical Center. He earned his medical degree from the University of New England Osteopathic School of Medicine and completed his residency in internal medicine at Deaconess Hospital - West and his fellowship in gastroenterology at Botsford General Hospital.

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