Early Detection Critical for Colon and Rectal Cancer

Colon and rectal cancers combined are the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. In 2019, an estimated 142,300 patients were diagnosed with either colon or rectal cancer in this country. Colon and rectal cancer, collectively known as colorectal cancer, was responsible for an estimated 52,980 U.S. deaths in 2019.


Risk Factors

Most colon and rectal cancers start as polyps and may show no symptoms for years before detection. Symptoms, such as abdominal pain and bloating, indicate more advanced disease. Screening is even more important in individuals at an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer. A family history of colon cancer is a contributing factor, and certain populations have an increased risk, including African Americans and Ashkenazi Jews. Also, having diabetes or inflammatory bowel disease increases the risk of cancer. Several other factors increase your risk of cancer but are within your control, including:

  • Family history of colorectal cancer

  • Personal history of chronic inflammatory bowel disease

  • Diabetes

  • Age

  • Diets rich in red or processed meat

  • Excessive drinking of alcohol

  • Obesity

  • Physical inactivity

  • Smoking

  • Makeup of microbiome



One of the most important tests for colon cancer is the screening colonoscopy, which should be performed at age 50 or 10 years before the youngest person in your family has cancer or polyps. If nothing is found, an individual at normal risk should have a colonoscopy every 10 years. Colon cancer testing should also be performed during the annual physical examination. This requires a rectal exam and a chemical test for occult (invisible) blood in the stool using the guaiac test. Talk to your primary care physician or gastroenterologist to see if you need to schedule a colonoscopy.


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