Iowa Specialty Hospital

Protect Yourself from Colon Cancer

February 25, 2019

Today is National Dress in Blue Day to promote the end of colorectal cancer. In this article we’ve compiled tips for prevention and knowing the symptoms and complications of colorectal cancer. 

Prevention

  • If you're 50 or older, schedule a colon cancer screening. More than 90% of people diagnosed with this disease are 50 or older.
  • See a doctor if you have symptoms such as a persistent change in bowel habits, thin stools, cramping, unexplained weight loss, and/or blood in the stool.
  • Eat a balanced diet as high fatty diets may be linked to colon cancer risks. A high fiber diet has been shown to have a protective effect.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Obese men seem to be at more risk than obese women. Also body types such as an apple shape (majority of weight around the abdomen) increases colon cancer risk more than a pear shape (majority of weight in hips, buttock, and thighs).
  • Don't smoke as it increases your risk for two reasons: inhaled or swallowed tobacco smoke transports carcinogens to the colon and tobacco use appears to increase polyp size.
  • Learn your family medical history. Make sure to tell your provider if a family member has had polyps, colon cancer, or other types of cancers as these may increase your risk.
  • Talk to your doctor about your personal medical history. Along with family history, your provider needs to know if you have had previous polyps, certain cancers, or chronic inflammation of the bowel.

Symptoms

Colon cancer symptoms come in two general varieties, local symptoms (based on where in the colon the tumor is located) and systemic or whole-body symptoms.

Local: Local colon cancer symptoms affect your bathroom habits and the colon itself. Some of the common local symptoms of colon cancer include:

  • Change in bowel habits from what is considered “your normal” (shape or color)
  • Change in stool frequency (persistent diarrhea or constipation)
  • Dark or bright red blood in your stools
  • Persistent feeling that you need to have a bowel movement
  • Abdominal discomfort / cramping belly pain 
  • Gas and bloating
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Systemic:  Systemic colon cancer symptoms are those that affect your whole body and include:
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained fatigue 

Complications: There are a few complications that may arise as a result of colon cancer.

  • Iron deficiency anemia 
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Jaundice

While many people have heard that having blood in their stools may be a sign of colon cancer, just about any change in your bowel habits is worth evaluating. While you may be anxious about the possibility of having colon cancer, early diagnosis offers you the best opportunity for treatment success.

Research has shown that there is a significant delay between when people notice signs of colon cancer and when it is actually diagnosed.  This lag time, which averages around five months, could result in a colon cancer spreading further and lowering the chance of a cure. While it's true that most people with these symptoms do not have colon cancer, it's never safe to assume that's the case.

One of the best steps for your health is to have a colonoscopy starting at age 50 or younger based on family history or your risk factors.  To schedule a colonoscopy, visit with your personal healthcare provider or call our gastroenterology department at 515-532-9310. 
 

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