[YOUR HEALTH] Colon Cancer Awareness Month

By Kenneth DeGazon MD
Associate Clinical Research Director
St. Hope Foundation

March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month and routine check-ups after the age of 50 can help identify, prevent and beat this treatable disease.

What is Colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer, also known as colon cancer, rectal cancer, or bowel cancer, is a cancer from uncontrolled cell growth in the colon or rectum (parts of the large intestine), or in the appendix. (Wikipedia)

Most colorectal cancer occurs due to lifestyle and increasing age with only a minority of cases associated with underlying genetic disorders. It typically starts in the lining of the bowel and if left untreated, can grow into the muscle layers underneath, and then through the bowel wall. Screening is effective at decreasing the chance of dying from colorectal cancer and is recommended starting at the age of 50 and continuing until a person is 75 years old. Localized bowel cancer is usually diagnosed through sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy. (Wikipedia)

Of the cancers that affect both men and women, colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. In 2010, 52,045 people in the U.S died of colon cancer (27, 073 men and 24,972 women).


Colon cancer or Colon polyps don’t always cause symptoms especially at the beginning. That is why getting screened regularly is so important. Some Symptoms may include :

  • Irregular bowel movements
  • Blood in your stools.
  • Stomach pains, aches or cramps that don’t go away.
  • Unexplained weight loss.

Risk Factors

  • Risk increases with age, More than 90% of the cases occur in people age 50 or older.
  • Inflammatory bowel syndrome.
  • Personal or Family history of colon cancer or colon polyps.
  • Lifestyle factors such as, Lack of regular physical activity, Low fruit and vegetable intake,  Low-fiber and high-fat diet, Overweight/ obesity, Alcohol consumption and Tobacco use.


Diagnosis of colorectal cancer is via tumor biopsy typically done during colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy, depending on the location of the lesion. The extent of the disease is then usually determined by a CT scan of the chest, abdomen and pelvis. There are other potential imaging test such as PET and MRI which may be used in certain cases. Colon cancer staging is done next and based on the TNM system which is determined by how much the initial tumor has spread, if and where lymph nodes are involved, and if and how many metastases there are. (Wikipedia)