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What Are the Early Warning Signs of Colon Cancer?

Colon cancer starts in the last portion of the digestive tract, known as the colon. It usually occurs in older adults but can occur at any age. Colon cancer, sometimes referred to as colorectal cancer, is the third most common cancer in both men and women in the United States, excluding skin cancers. Colon cancer begins with small noncancerous cell clumps, known as polyps, in the colon. Some polyps can become cancerous with time.

Polyps cause very few and unrecognizable symptoms, if at all. Some of the symptoms and risk factors include:

  • Blood in the stool, persistent changes in bowel consistency including constipation or diarrhea, fatigue or weakness, persistent abdominal discomfort, inexplicable weight loss, and feeling like the bowel doesn’t completely empty. Many of these symptoms will appear later and will most likely be varied depending on the size of the cancer and where it is located in the large intestine.
  • Generally, colon cancer occurs when healthy cells experience DNA mutations. Its causes remain uncertain but there are certain factors that predispose one to it. These include: older age, chronic inflammatory intestinal conditions such as Crohn’s disease, personal or family history of colon cancer, are African-American, sedentary lifestyle, a low-fiber high-fat diet, smoking, alcohol consumption, diabetes, obesity, and radiation therapy directed at the abdomen for the treatment of other cancers. Some gene mutations passed down from family could put some at a higher risk of this particular cancer. These syndromes include Lynch syndrome and familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP).

Due to its mostly silent nature, it is best to work on prevention and to go for regular screenings and to start early enough. Doctors recommend starting screening at the age of 50 but those at a higher risk of developing colon cancer may need to start earlier to be on the safe side.

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