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Signs of colon cancer and the importance of screening

GEHA | June 18, 2019

Colon cancer
Many people with colon cancer experience no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. Be sure to get your screening around age 50.

Among cancers that affect both men and women, colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.

Colon cancer typically affects older adults. It usually begins as small, noncancerous clumps of cells called polyps that form on the inside of the colon. Over time, some of the polyps can become cancerous.

Doctors recommend that you consider screening around age 50. If you have an increased risk, such as a family history of colon cancer or of African-American heritage, you should consider screening at an earlier age.

Several screening options exist, each with its own benefits and drawbacks. Talk about your options with your doctor. If a colonoscopy is used for screening, polyps can be removed during the procedure before they turn into cancer.

Signs and symptoms of colon cancer include:

  • A persistent change in your bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation or a change in the consistency of your stool
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
  • Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain
  • A feeling that your bowel doesn't empty completely 
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss 

Many people with colon cancer experience no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. When symptoms appear, they will likely vary, depending on the cancer's size and location in your large intestine.

Many treatments are available to help control colon cancer, including surgery, radiation therapy and drug treatments, such as chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy.

Find out what health screenings are available to you as a GEHA member.

“Colon cancer.”, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2019.

“Colorectal Cancer Awareness.”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5 March 2019.