Experts recommend that adults are screened regularly for colon cancer beginning at age 50. However, only 90% of new colon cancer occurs in adults ages 50 and older, which means 1 out of every 10 cases occurs in someone below the age of 50. Thus, it's wise to consider being screened for colon cancer in your 30s or 40s—particularly if you have a family history of colon cancer or are experiencing symptoms that you think may be caused by this disease.
Family History and Colon Cancer Risk
Has anyone in your family been diagnosed with colon cancer? If you have a parent, sibling, or child who has had the disease, you are at least twice as likely to develop colon cancer as someone with no family history of the illness. If you have a cousin, aunt, uncle, or grandparent who has had colon cancer, you're still at a somewhat increased risk, and should thus be on the lookout for symptoms and strongly consider early screening.
Why is early screening so important? Whether or not you have a family history of the illness, the earlier it is caught, the greater your chances of survival. It's also less traumatic to have a small portion of your colon removed than to wait until the disease spreads and have a larger portion removed. Even if your family member was over the age of 50 when diagnosed with colon cancer, his or her disease may have begun developing before that. Yours may be starting, too, and it's best to catch it now.
The Often-Ignored Symptoms of Colon Cancer
One reason why colon cancer is so deadly is that it seemingly causes no symptoms in its early stages. Patients don't realize they have it until it's really bad—or until it is detected in screening. In reality, colon cancer does usually cause some symptoms. It's just that those symptoms are so vague that patients don't worry about them or realize they are a sign something is wrong. Signs you may be developing colon cancer and should head in for an immediate screening include:
- Blood in your stool
- Thin, pencil-like stool
- Frequent constipation
- Strange feelings of any sort in the abdomen
- Unexplained weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Chronic fatigue
- Slow wound healing
If you have a family history of colon cancer or are showing any of the signs above, don't wait until you're 50 to get screened. Being screened now (at clinics like Clinical Gastrointestinal Associates, PC) could lead to your disease, if you do have it, being detected earlier and therefore treated much more effectively. Even though experts don't recommend starting screening until you're 50, it's always better to be extra cautious than not cautious enough.