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Catch colon cancer early with a colonoscopy

GEHA | June 10, 2021

Doctors recommend that you consider screening around age 50.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of death from cancer in the United States. It is also the third most common type of non-skin cancer diagnosed in both men and women.

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. The estimated five-year survival rate for people with colon cancer is 65%, though that rate rises to approximately 90% when the cancer is found while still localized. About 39% of patients are diagnosed at this early stage.

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

A colonoscopy is the most reliable screening to detect colorectal cancer. Studies suggest colonoscopies reduce deaths from this disease by between 60% and 70%.

In this test, the rectum and entire colon are examined using a colonoscope. During the exam, any abnormal growths in the colon or rectum can be removed.

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

Some steps you can take to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer are:

  • Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables
  • Get regular physical activity
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Consume a moderate amount of alcohol
  • Cease all tobacco use

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.


“Tests to Detect Colorectal Cancer and Polyps.”, National Cancer Institute, 14 January, 2020.
“Colorectal Cancer Awareness.”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5 March 2019.
“Colon cancer.”, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2019.