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Prevention and Detection

You Can Prevent Colorectal Cancer Through Early Detection!

Colorectal Cancer and People Under 50

Although the rates of colorectal cancer are trending downward, the number of people under 50 being diagnosed with colon cancer is rising. When people under 50 are diagnosed, their cancer is often at a more advanced stage.

Who is at risk for developing colon cancer before the age of 50?

People with a family history of colon cancer. The average person’s lifetime risk for developing colon cancer is about 5%. If you have one first-degree relative with colon cancer, your risk is roughly doubled. If you have multiple relatives with colon cancer, and if those cancers were diagnosed at younger ages, then your risk is much higher.

Colorectal Cancer and Genetics

Most hereditary colon cancers can be traced to one of two different syndromes, Familial Adenomal Polyposis (FAP), and Lynch Syndrome. FAP, which accounts for 1% of colon cancer cases, arises from a mutation in the APC gene. People born with FAP can begin developing colon polyps as early as their pre-teen years, resulting in colons of filled with polyps. People with Lynch Syndrome develop more polyps than normal, just like those with FAP, but those polyps also grow much faster.

People with a family history of colon cancer should talk to their doctor about genetic screening for FAP and Lynch Syndrome.

Colon cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in America. It’s also the most preventable, and overall diagnosis rates of colon cancer have been on the decline since 1990. In general, men and women should begin screening for colorectal cancer at age 50.

Four screening tests for colorectal cancer

Talk to your doctor about which test is best for you.

Colonoscopy

The preferred method for screening, colonoscopy is a procedure to look inside the rectum and colon for polyps, abnormal areas, or cancer. Colonoscopy evaluates the whole colon (large intestine). A colonoscope is inserted through the rectum into the colon. A colonoscope is a thin and flexible, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. Through the scope, the doctor can insert tools to remove polyps or obtain tissue samples, which are checked under a microscope for signs of cancer. Learn more on our Colonoscopy web page.

Fecal occult blood test (FOBT) or fecal immunochemical test (FIT)

A fecal occult blood test and a fecal immunochemical test both check stool (solid waste) for blood that may not be visible. Small samples of stool are placed on special cards or in a small dipstick like devise and returned to the doctor or laboratory for testing. Blood in the stool may be a sign of polyps or cancer.

Sigmoidoscopy

Sigmoidoscopy is a procedure to look inside the rectum and sigmoid (lower) colon for polyps, abnormal areas, or cancer. A sigmoidoscope is inserted through the rectum into the sigmoid colon. Like the colonoscope, the sigmoidoscope is a thin and flexible, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. It may also have a tool to remove polyps or tissue samples, which are checked under a microscope for signs of cancer. Sigmoidoscopy evaluates only the lower third of the colon.

Barium enema

A barium enema is a series of x-rays of the lower gastrointestinal tract. A chalky liquid called barium sulfate is put into the rectum. The barium coats the lower gastrointestinal tract and helps outline the colon and rectum on x-rays. This procedure is also called a lower GI series.

Additional Information about Colorectal (Colon) Cancer Screening

Still have questions?

The nurses at Cancer AnswerLine have answers. Call 1-800-865-1125 and you'll get a personal response from one of our registered nurses, who have years of experience in caring for people with cancer.

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