March is colon cancer awareness month. Getting screened for colon cancer could save your life. According to the CDC, if everyone 50 years of age and older had regular screening tests, at least 60% of deaths from this cancer could be avoided.

Often with colon cancer there are no symptoms in the early stages. It usually starts as a polyp, an abnormal growth that over time can turn into cancer. A screening test, such as a colonoscopy, can identify those polyps and give the doctor time to remove them before they turn cancerous. Treatment is also more likely to be effective when the disease is found early.

Polyps do not cause any symptoms, which is why screening is done even though you may feel healthy. If you have any of the following symptoms, it could be a warning sign of colon cancer and you should see your doctor.

Some important warning signs include:

  • Any notable change in bowel movement consistency or frequency
  • Dark or light blood in the stool or rectal bleeding
  • Abdominal discomfort or bloating
  • Unexplained fatigue, loss of appetite, and/or weight loss

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends regular screening for colorectal cancer using high-sensitivity fecal occult blood testing, sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy beginning at age 50 years and continuing until age 75 years. People at higher risk of developing colorectal cancer should begin screening at a younger age, and may need to be tested more frequently.

Patients at higher risk include those with a personal history of colon cancer or precancerous polyps, history of inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease), strong family history of colon cancer or polyps, or a known family history of a hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome (HNPCC or FAP).

Jennifer Sinclair, MD
120 Professional Park Drive, Suite 7
Blacksburg, VA 24060