Ask the Expert: What You Need to Know About Colon Cancer


March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month and Dr. Almashhrawi would like to share some information to help you stay well.  

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among men and women combined in the United States and 90% of those cases occur in people who are 50 years of age or older.  Colon cancer starts in either your colon or rectum, which make up the lower part of your digestive tract.  Changes which occur in the cells lining the inside of the colon or rectum can lead to growths called polyps. Over time, some types of polyps can become cancerous so removing polyps early may stop cancer from ever forming.

“Often signs and symptoms of colon cancer only appear when the cancer has progressed to late stage cancer or has spread,” notes Dr. Almashhrawi.  Some of the symptoms of colon cancer are blood on or in your bowel movement; pains, aches or cramps in your stomach that doesn’t go away; constant tiredness; vomiting and unexplained weight loss.  Many of these symptoms may be caused by other, more common health problems. But it is important to see your healthcare provider if you have these symptoms. Only a healthcare provider can tell if you have colorectal cancer.

“If you’re 50 or older, getting a colorectal cancer screening could save your life,” shares Dr. Almashhrawi. “Regular screening is very important for colorectal cancer because it can often detect cancer early, when it will likely be easier to treat. In fact, screening can even prevent many colorectal cancers, because screenings help us find and remove growths inside the colon or rectum before they have a chance to turn into cancer.”  If you are age 50 or over you should be getting screened for colorectal cancer.  Some people are at higher risk for colorectal cancer, based on family history or other factors. They might need to start screening at a younger age, and then be screened more often than normal.  How often you need these tests depends on which test you have. In general, you can go longer between tests if you have a colonoscopy, which lets the doctor find and remove polyps, or similar tests. Screening tests that look for blood or other things in the stool must be done more often.

“Talk with your healthcare provider about which screening option is right for you,” says Dr. Almashhrawi.  “No matter which test you choose, the most important thing is that you get screened.” It’s important to keep in mind that if cancer is found at an early stage during screening, treatment is more likely to be effective. There are currently more than one million colon cancer survivors in the United States!