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COLON CANCER

Colon and rectal exam - Beginning at age 40 years, stools should be tested for blood every year after age 50. You and your doctor should choose one of these screening methods as well: a sigmoidoscopy every 5 years, a colonoscopy every 10 years, or a double contrast barium enema every 5-10 years. A rectal exam is done at the same time as these methods. If you have a family history of polyps, colon cancer, or other risk factors for colon cancer, you may get a colonoscopy earlier than 50.

Fewer people are dying from cancer of the colon and rectum. This may be because more of the cases are found early. Also, treatments have improved. In addition to a rectal exam, screening tests can help detect cancer of the colon and rectum. They include:

  • Fecal occult blood test-checks for unseen blood in the stool
  • Sigmoidoscopy-a doctor looks at the rectum and lower colon with a long, flexible, lighted device
  • Colonoscopy-a doctor examines the entire colon using a small, lighted device
  • Double contrast barium enema - a chalky substance is placed in the colon through the anus to allow X-rays to be taken

The disease has a number of signs and symptoms:

  • Change in bowel habits
  • Bleeding from the rectum
  • Blood in the stool
  • Stools that are more narrow than usual
  • Abdominal discomfort (bloating, cramps, or frequent gas pains)
  • A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement (that does not go away after a bowel movement)
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weakness and feeling tired

People with one or more relatives who have had colon and rectal cancer have an increased risk of getting it. It also occurs more often in women age 50 or older or those with inflammatory bowel disease.

Colon and rectal cancer also may be linked to diet. Eating foods that are low in fat and high in fiber (such as fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain cereals) may help reduce the risk of getting the disease. Keeping a healthy weight and exercising also may help. Recent studies suggest that taking NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) or hormone replacement therapy also may reduce the risk of colon and rectal cancer.

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