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Colon Cancer




     In most cases, colon cancer does not present any signs or symptoms in the early stages. However, when symptoms do appear there are as follows:

  • Narrow stool

  • Black or dark colored stools

  • Weight loss with no known explanation

  • Rectal bleeding or blood in stool

  • Diarrhea, constipation, or other change in bowel habits

  • Abdominal pain and tenderness, such as cramps, gas, bloating

     Colon cancer symptoms will vary according to the location and size of tumors. The right side of the colon is more spacious, which allows cancers located on the right side of the colon to grow larger in size before any symptoms are noticed. Many right-sided tumors can cause iron deficiency, which in turn leads to anemia from slow blood lost over long periods of time. Typically symptoms of right sided-tumor growth are exhaustion, weakness, and shortness of breath. In contrast, the left side of the colon is narrower, and is more likely to cause blockage of the bowels. For cancers in the left side of the colon, the symptoms are typically constipation, narrow stools, diarrhea, cramps, and bloating.1


Risk Factors 

     There are a variety of factors that can increase your chances of having colon cancer. These factors include, but are not limited to:

  • Sedentary lifestyle

  • High red meat and processed meat consumption

  • Family history

  • Alcohol consumption

  • Older age

  • Smoking

  • Diabetes

  • Obesity



      Making changes in your lifestyle may also reduce your risk factors for developing colon cancer. It is important to maintain a diet that encompasses a variety of vegetables, whole grain products, and fruits. Eating the proper amount of minerals, fiber, vitamins, and exercising regularly may help to maintain a healthy weight. It is recommended that you receive at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity every week and two or more days of muscle strengthening activities.6 Quitting smoking and limiting alcohol consumption can further reduce your risk.


      Early detection and removal of precancerous polyps is the most successful prevention of colon cancer.   For detection and removal of polyps, it is important to have annual screening beginning at age 50, or earlier if you are of African-American and American Indian ancestry. It is important to have regular screening to decrease incidence of colon cancer and to begin treatment during earlier stages. There are a variety of screening options, but the three major screening tests are colonoscopies, flexible sigmoidoscopies, and fecal occult blood tests.

      A colonoscopy is a screening technique that allows for direct visual examination of the colon and removal of any polyps if present. Before a colonoscopy is performed, patients must take a laxative to cleanse the colon completely.   During the procedure, the patient may be slightly sedated while a fiber optic camera on a flexible tube is used to examine the colon for any polyps or abnormal growths. If a polyp is found, it can be removed by passing a wire lop through the colon scope to cut the growth from the lining of the colon.4

     A flexible sigmoidoscopy is another screening technique that can be used to verify any abnormal findings in a colon x-ray. This technique is similar to a colonoscopy in that it uses a minimally invasive medical device called a flexible endoscope to examine the gastrointestinal tract. The difference is that a sigmoidoscopy is a specialized procedure that examines up to the sigmoid (part of colon closest to anus), while a colonoscopy examines the entire bowel.4

     Fecal occult blood testing is a noninvasive procedure that tests stool samples using chemical indicators for concealed blood. Bloody stools may signify colon cancer or polyps within the colon. The fecal occult test is often a preliminary procedure, and additional tests may be run to determine the source of bleeding. As always, it is important to discuss screening techniques with your primary physician to determine which technique will suite you best.

If you are over the over the age of fifty or have a family history of colon cancer please speak with your primary physician about prevention methods and screening options for colon cancer.


  1. Colorectal Cancer. (2012, May 25). Retrieved July 15, 2012, from American Cancer Society: http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/ColonandRectumCancer/DetailedGuide/colorectal-cancer-what-is-colorectal-cancer?gclid=CNLIw9LQwbECFVS8KgodvHAALw
  2. Espey, D. K., Wu, X.-C., Swan, J., Wiggins, C., Jim, A. M., Ward, E., . . . Edwards, B. K. (2007, November 15). Annual report to the nation on the status of cancer, 1975-2004, featuring cancer in American Indians and Alaska Natives. Cancer, 110(10), 2119-2152. doi:10.1002/cncr.23044
  3. Fecal occult blood test. (2011, June 18). Retrieved July 15, 2012, from Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/fecal-occult-blood-test/MY00620
  4. Longstreth, G. F., & Zieve, D. (Eds.). (2011, October 16). Sigmoidoscopy. Retrieved July 15, 2012, from PubMed health: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0004336/
  5. Moynihan, T. J., & Ness, S. M. (2011, August 13). Risk Factors. Retrieved from Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/colon-cancer/ds00035/dsection=risk-factors
  6. Physical Activity for Everyone. (2011, December 1). Retrieved July 15, 2012, from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/adults.html
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