To answer the question of how do you get colorectal cancer, we should understand that this type of cancer develops when the cells of the gastrointestinal tract start growing out of control. Then these outgrowth cells form polyps. 

Most of the polyps won’t cause cancer, but some of them can slowly become cancerous. The problem is that they grow slowly and usually won’t cause any symptoms until they are big. The process of turning polyps into cancerous cells takes 10-15 years. Thanks to this slow development and timely screening, many cases of colon cancer are prevented and cured in time. 

What is colon cancer?

Colorectal carcinoma or colon cancer — is the most common cancer of the gastrointestinal tract and one of the major causes of cancer-related deaths around the world, and the most preventable type of cancer.

What are the early signs of colorectal cancer?

In most cases, men and women experience similar signs and symptoms. But the early symptoms of colon cancer are so non distinct that they can be perceived as symptoms of other diseases or disorders. For example, one of the most common symptoms of colon cancer is blood in the stool, which can be mistreated as a symptom of anal fissures or hemorrhoids that also cause blood in the stool. But in the case of fissures, the blood disappears after fissures heal. If the blood remains for an extended period, it’s a reason to visit your general practitioner. Or, for example, a person had had a stool once a day in the morning, but it changed, and this person started having stool every four days. This case should be investigated further. Any changes that last more than one month should be evaluated by a medical doctor. Besides blood on the stool, the early signs of colorectal cancer are: 

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Changing of consistency of stool
  • Change of frequency of stool
  • Occasional abdominal pain
  • Change or loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
All of us have occasional abdominal pain from time to time. But if this occasional pain appears constantly, it should alert you. The main rule to suspect colorectal cancer and get a doctor’s consultation is if the symptoms remain for a month or longer.

Colon cancer risk factors

It’s important to understand that all people have a risk of getting colorectal carcinoma. But some people have a higher risk of developing the illness, and some factors can increase the possibility. They are divided into factors you can’t control, such as:

  • Age of 45 years or older
  • Personal history of polyps 
  • Family history of colon polyps or cancer
  • Inherited genetic syndromes or inflammatory diseases like Chron’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Breast cancer
  • Ovarian or uterine cancer diagnosed under the age of 50 years

On the other hand, there are factors that you can control, such as:

  • Diet consisting mainly of red and processed meat
  • Obesity
  • Excessive alcohol intake
  • Smoking
  • Inactivity

Colon cancer is more common in people who have a family history of colon polyps or colorectal cancer. Hence, it is important to share the results of your colonoscopy with your children and parents. Because if you have polyps, your children will likely also have colorectal polyps that may develop into colon cancer.

How is colon cancer diagnosed early?

Colonoscopy is the only test for finding and removing defective polyps at the early stages. This procedure lasts 30-60 minutes. A day before the procedure, patients shouldn’t eat solid food and should take special medications to clean the colon. Right before the procedure, the patient is given medications for sedation. A doctor uses a colonoscope — a flexible and long tubular instrument inserted through the rectum to provide an image of the colon lining for examination for abnormalities. Usually, patients don’t feel anything during the procedure. But after the procedure, it’s recommended to not drive at least 3-4 hours after the colonoscopy or wait in the medical center until complete recovery from sedation.

When should people have to start getting a colonoscopy?

The best age to begin screening can vary depending on the personal medical history. A regular screening, beginning at age of 45 if the person doesn’t have any symptoms or family history with polyps or colon cancer. We recommend consulting a doctor and asking when it’s time to check your colon.

Colon cancer prevention

It’s important to know that healthy habits can decrease the risk of developing colon cancer. Improving your nutrition, getting enough exercise, and controlling a healthy body weight may help prevent the development of colorectal cancer.

Food to prevent colorectal cancer 

We recommend following a diet that contains a lot of vegetables, greens, fruits, and whole grains instead of refined grains. It’s also important to avoid consuming a large amount of red and processed (cooked at high temperatures) meat. When you choose proteins, we recommend giving preference to poultry, fish, or legumes. This nutrition will help you in keeping a healthy weight. What is also important is to avoid consuming excessive alcohol and smoking. 

Physical exercises for colon cancer prevention

People with an active lifestyle are 24% less likely to develop colorectal carcinoma than the least active. A study showed that it didn’t depend on the type of activity — it could be work, exercises, or even play. The main recommendation is to get at least 150 moderate-active minutes, such as brisk walking, or 75 more active minutes, such as fitness or jogging, spread during the week.

Timely and regular diagnostics can save lives

In the case of colon cancer, patients should remember that detected in the early stages, this type of carcinoma is highly curable. When detected, removing defective polyps is performed during the colonoscopy — the instrument has a wire loop that effectively cuts the polyp. It’s fast and isn’t painful for the patient. If you haven’t diagnosed any polyps during a colonoscopy, it’s recommended to return in five-10 years for another diagnostic, depending on your medical history. 

Contact your doctor online today if one of your family members has polyps or colon cancer or if you have any symptoms that last over a month.

Remember, timely and regular diagnostics can save your life.