Colon Cancer Prevention - PIH Health

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Published on January 29, 2016


Colon Cancer Prevention

Colon cancer occurs in the large intestine and begins as a small growth, called a polyp.  Fortunately, regular screening tests, such as a colonoscopy, can often detect polyps early, allowing them to be removed before cancer develops.  The vast majority of polyps are benign and it generally takes 5 to 15 years from when the polyp starts to grow to when it transforms into cancer.  That is why early screening is critical.

Symptoms of colon cancer

Most patients with colon cancer, especially early stages of colon cancer have no symptoms.  There are however, signs that should be discussed with your doctor.  These include:

  • Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
  • A change in bowel habits including diarrhea, constipation or consistency of the stool
  • Persistent abdominal pain, cramps or gas
  • Feeling that your rectum doesn't empty completely
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss

These symptoms can vary greatly depending on the size and location of the cancer.

Risk Factors

  • Age: the risk of colon cancer increases with age significantly after the age of 50
  • Race: African Americans have a higher risk for colon cancer and should start screening at age 45
  • Chronic inflammatory diseases of the colon: Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
  • Diet: studies indicate that a diet low in fiber and high in fat increase risk
  • Sedentary lifestyle: regular physical activity may reduce the risk
  • Diabetes may increase the risk of colon cancer
  • Obesity has been linked to increased risk
  • Smoking has been implicated in several cancers including colon cancer
  • Alcohol: heavy alcohol consumption may increase your risk

Make changes to reduce your risk

There are a number of things you can do to reduce your risk for several types of cancer, including:

  • Eat a healthy diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • Limit alcohol to one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men
  • Stop smoking
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes each day
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Most importantly, get screened

Get screened to prevent colon cancer

Colonoscopy is the most effective strategy for preventing colon cancer and detecting colon cancer early, when it is still curable.  Other strategies include testing stool samples for blood, flexible sigmoidoscopy, CT Colonography and stool DNA testing.

Talk to your doctor about your personal risk factors and the screening strategies that are most appropriate for you.


This article was reviewed by Neal Shindel MD, a gastroenterologist at PIH Health.

The information in Healthy Living Online is for educational purposes only.  It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.  The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation, or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.

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