Colorectal cancer, commonly known as colon cancer, is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women each year in the United States. In 2022, an estimated 52,580 people died from colon cancer.
According to Florida Department of Health’s Bureau of Community Health Assessment in 2019, Duval county’s colon cancer rate of 46.4 diagnoses per 100,000 residents was 28% higher than the statewide average. More people are dying from colon cancer and spreading awareness through education that promotes getting regular screenings and healthy habits that help reduce the risk of developing colon cancer is important.
Diagnosing colorectal cancer through a screening may begin with your primary care provider. Ross Jones, MD, MPH, medical director at UF Health Family Medicine and Pediatrics — Elizabeth G. Means Center, Total Care Group and Community Health, provided us with insight into the symptoms, signs and treatment of colon cancer.
What is colon cancer?
Dr Jones: Colon cancer is a cancer that appears in the large intestine, or colon.
What are some signs and symptoms of colon cancer?
Dr Jones: We usually look for a change in the stool, including the size or narrowing of the stool, a change in color and blood in the stool. Some individuals may become constipated if a mass is blocking the stool from exiting. Other symptoms are abdominal and rectal pain, fatigue and weight loss.
What Causes Colon Cancer?
Dr. Jones: There is nothing specific that causes colon cancer. Sometimes it can be hereditary if you know people in your family that have had it. Then it’s something you would keep check on. However, certain lifestyle habits can increase your chance of having colon cancer. Smoking, eating a low fiber diet, not being physically active, and excessive alcohol intake can all be risk factors.
Although anyone can get colon cancer, men do tend to be diagnosed with cancer more than women simply because men are less likely to visit a doctor. Colon cancer disproportionately affects African Americans and Native Americans at a higher rate.
How is colon cancer diagnosed?
Dr. Jones: Screenings are recommended for people with an average risk starting at age 45. There are several different types of screenings. One is a stool-based screening which looks for blood or chemical markers of tumors. These tests are done once a year. If the results are positive, then you’ll get a colonoscopy, where they go in with a small lighted camera to look for polyps. They snip a sample of the polyps or abnormal growths, send them to pathology to determine if it’s cancer.
Depending on the size and shape, they will send it off to the lab and then determine if it’s benign or cancerous. Generally, the bigger the polyp, the more likely it is cancer. However, not all polyps are cancerous.
What can be done to treat it?
Dr. Jones: If colon cancer is detected early, it can be treated. There are a variety of treatment options, including surgery to remove any masses or cancer, chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
The treatment time will depend on the size of the mass, cancer stage and if it has spread to other parts of the body. Cancer can move beyond the colon and spread to the lymph nodes, bone tissue and other organs. If treated in a timely manner, the survival rate of colon cancer is 64% with a five-year survival rate.
What can be done to prevent colon cancer?
Dr. Jones: I wouldn’t say so much prevention, but focus on ways to lower your risks. It goes back to healthy habits. Eat a high fiber diet, be more active by increasing your physical activity, don’t smoke and lower alcohol consumption. Get regular screenings if you’re age 45 and older. If you have a family history of colon cancer, then we may recommend getting screened 10 years before the age your family member was diagnosed, and if you’re having symptoms. These can be done through your primary care doctor who can order a stool-based screening or refer you to a gastroenterologist who can perform a colonoscopy. Screenings, including a colonoscopy, are covered by most insurance plans.
How do you know when you should be checked by a doctor for colon cancer?
Dr. Jones: An important part of prevention is having a primary care physician or provider. We specialize in diagnosing, treating, preventing and managing chronic health conditions.
If you start having any symptoms consistently, including dark and tarry stool, then I recommend you speak with your primary care provider or other health care specialist for guidance.
Dr. Jones and his team of health care providers at UF Health Family Medicine and Pediatrics – Elizabeth G. Means Center are trained to care for the whole family at every stage of life.
Visit https://ufhealthjax.org/location/9/uf-health-family-medicine-pediatrics-elizabeth-g-means-center/ for more information, or call 904-383-1040 to schedule an appointment.
Visit UFHealthJax.org/primary-care to find a UF Health Family Medicine practice near you.