March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month: Educate yourself and get screened!

A colonoscopy is the best way to screen for colon cancer.

March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month: Educate yourself and get screened!

The thought of getting any form of cancer is extremely scary – yet the types of cancers we fear and are mostly preoccupied with screening for are breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men. But the reality is that the two top forms of cancers are lung and colon cancer.  

Colon cancer is the second deadliest form of cancer after lung cancer, yet it’s one of the simplest to screen for – and if caught early, the cure rate is extremely high. So, if screening is easy and the cure rate is high, why are so many people succumbing to colon cancer? The fact is that there might be no symptoms in the early stages, but when they do appear, they’ll likely vary depending on the size of the cancer and where it’s located in the colon. Sometimes colon cancer is called colorectal cancer – this cancer begins in the rectum and is located in both the colon and the rectum. (Mayo Clinic)

According to the American Cancer Society, there are no known causes for colon cancer, but there are risk factors that can be considered such as:

  • Older age 

  • Being African American 

  • Inflammatory intestinal conditions

  • Family history of colon cancer

  • Low-fiber, high-fat diet

  • Sedentary lifestyle

  • Diabetes 

  • Obesity

  • Smoking

  • Alcohol use

If you are a person who is considered at average risk for colon cancer, getting screened at age 50 is usually the recommendation. However, if you are at an increased risk because you have a family history of colon cancer, screening should be done at an earlier age. A colonoscopy is the best way to screen for colon 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

Making changes in your everyday lifestyle has the potential to reduce your risk of colon cancer (and may offer other health benefits). Here are five steps you can consider taking:

  1. Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These foods contain vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants, all of which may play a role in cancer prevention. 

  2. Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all. If you must, limit the amount of alcohol you drink to no more than one drink a day for women and two for men.

  3. Stop smoking. Talk to your doctor about ways to quit that may work for you.

  4. Exercise most days of the week. Get 30 minutes of exercise on most days.  Start slowly and build up to 30 minutes. Always talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program.

  5. Maintain a healthy weight.  Aim to lose weight slowly by increasing the amount of exercise you get and reducing the number of calories you eat.

If you are over 50, speak to your doctor about screening for colon cancer. A colonoscopy might be recommended. A long, flexible, slender tube is attached to a video camera and monitor so that the doctor can view your entire colon and rectum. If any suspicious areas are found, your doctor can pass surgical tools through the tube to take tissue samples for analysis; polyps can also remove polyps.   

So, as you “march” through this month of colon cancer awareness, please take the time to understand your risk and the steps you can take to reduce those risks.


About the author: Vanessa Ingrid Farrell is a bestselling author and the CEO and founder of Vanessa Ingrid Health and Wellness Coaching, LLC. We help busy women, especially those in leadership roles, unapologetically prioritize and preserve their heart health without sacrificing career and the joys of everyday life experiences.