Ask the Expert: Colon Cancer

Five Common Questions About Colon Cancer

Dr. Aleksandar Jankov, a medical oncologist with Baptist Medical Group-Family Cancer Center Foundation who specializes in gastrointestinal cancers (including colon cancer), answers five of the most common questions about colon cancer for the Baptist Leader’s Ask the Expert series.

[toggle title=”What are the most common risk factors for colon cancer?” state=”open”]Age, lifestyle, presence of other diseases and genetic factors.

  • Risk starts rising at age 35 and reaches a peak at age 80. At 80 years old, your risk is 400 percent higher than in your early 30s. Ninety percent of people diagnosed with colon cancer are older than 50.
  • Obesity, lack of adequate physical activity, alcohol use, long-term smoking, not eating enough fruits and vegetables and diabetes
  • A personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
  • Genetic factors, such as familial adenomatous polyposis and Lynch syndrome, also known as hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer. FAP makes up 1 percent of all diagnosed cases and HNPCC makes up approximately 5 percent of cases.
[/toggle] [toggle title=”What are the signs and symptoms of colon cancer?” state=”close”]Symptoms can be vague, especially if they occur on the right side of the colon where the colon is wider and symptoms could be delayed. Symptoms include:

  • Persistent changes in your bowel habit regime, such as diarrhea, constipation, the feeling that you need to pass stool even though your bowel is already empty
  • Iron deficiency anemia due to blood loss
  • Malaise and fatigue
  • Abdominal pain and cramping
[/toggle] [toggle title=”Does everyone have the same signs and symptoms?” state=”close”]Presenting symptoms, to some extent, depend on the side of the colon where cancer occurs. Cancer on the right side of the colon is associated with more vague symptoms, such as bloating and iron deficiency anemia with unappreciated, occult blood loss. Cancer of the left side of the colon presents with difficulty with bowel movements, cramps, pains, etc.[/toggle] [toggle title=”Is it too late for treatment when I start to see signs of colon cancer?” state=”close”] Colon cancer is very curable when found in its early stage (while still a polyp when people don’t have many symptoms). It is crucial to seek care promptly when symptoms occur. Colon cancer can be treated at the advanced stage as well, but may not be as curable.[/toggle] [toggle title=”Is colon cancer preventable, and if so, what are the best ways to prevent it?” state=”close”] Yes, colon cancer is preventable through primary and secondary prevention. While age cannot be modified, other factors can be. Primary prevention includes increasing physical activity, eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, reducing the amount of red meat eaten, preventing or treating diabetes, reducing alcohol intake and not smoking. Secondary prevention involves discovery and removal of colon polyps that may be precancerous or are already cancerous, but are at a very early stage. That is when colon cancer is highly curable.[/toggle]