Colon and rectal cancers have many features in common, and they are often referenced together as colorectal cancer. In most cases, colorectal cancer develops slowly over a period of several years. Most cases begin as a polyp, a growth inside the colon or rectum that later becomes cancerous.
Although colorectal cancer may be present without symptoms, if you experience any of the following, you should call your doctor to determine the cause and schedule a colonoscopy if appropriate:
- Change in bowel habits.
- Diarrhea or constipation.
- Narrower than normal stool.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Constant tiredness.
- Blood in stool.
- Feeling that the bowel does not empty completely.
- Abdominal discomfort, including gas, bloating, fullness, or cramps.
- Unexplained anemia.
If you have a personal or family history of colorectal cancer you should check with your doctor for advice about early detection screening tests. When these cancers are found and treated early, they can often be cured. Screening can also find polyps. The timely removal of these polyps can help prevent some cancers.
The American Cancer Society recommends that men and women at average risk should begin screening for colorectal cancer at the age of 50. Talk to your doctor about the type of test that is most appropriate for you. All positive tests should be followed up with a colonoscopy. People at higher risk should consider colorectal cancer screening earlier or with greater frequency.
A healthy diet is important to maintain a healthy gastrointestinal (GI) tract and colon. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grain foods.
Exercise lowers risk. The American Cancer Society recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise five or more days per week.