Let’s take a little quiz to see how familiar you are with the symptoms of common illnesses:
- Muscle and joint aches, headache, dry cough, sore throat, runny nose, fatigue, pain around the eyes, fever.
- Sneezing, runny nose, tiredness, congestion, cough.
- Throat pain, swollen tonsils, spots on the back of the mouth, tender lymph nodes, fever, painful swallowing.
- Ear pain, difficulty hearing, loss of balance, irritability, trouble sleeping, loss of appetite.
How did you do? If you chose: influenza, common cold, strep throat and middle ear infection, you are exactly right! Many health conditions have recognizable symptoms to help us know what type of treatment we need to begin the healing process. Other sicknesses and diseases are more covert and may not have warning signs at all. Colon cancer is one example of a disease that may not have any associated symptoms until the disease has progressed to an advanced stage. This is quite problematic, as colon cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer death in the United States.
Although this may be unsettling news, we do not all need to live in fear of developing colon cancer. There are some patterns that often go along with colon cancer. For example, family history plays a more important role in colon cancer development than was previously thought. If colon cancer runs in your family, you should talk to your doctor about the possibility of getting screened earlier. This is especially true if you have a first-degree relative with colon cancer.
Other diseases and conditions, such as diabetes, large body mass index, irritable bowel disease (IBD), and hereditary conditions like familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and Lynch syndrome, can put you at higher risk for colon cancer. Lifestyle choices also play an important role in colon cancer development. Smoking, alcohol use, eating a high-fat/low-fiber diet, and a sedentary lifestyle can all contribute to colon disease.
Colon cancer does eventually cause very specific symptoms, but this often means that the disease has been progressing for some time already. Pay attention to your body and look for warning signs, such as persistent abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, blood in the stool, black or tarry stools, thin pencil-like stools, chronic constipation and/or diarrhea or vomiting. If you or a loved one experience any of these symptoms, don’t delay in calling your doctor and scheduling an appointment.
Remember, a lack of symptoms does not provide assurance that your colon is in good health. Be active in your own healthcare. Know your family history, pay attention to changes in your bowel habits, be aware of exacerbating conditions, make good lifestyle choices, and memorize the warning signs of colon cancer. Most importantly, schedule regular colonoscopies beginning at the age of 50 (or earlier if you are African American and/or have a family history colon cancer). This disease may not be as easy to diagnose as the flu or the common cold, but you can equip yourself with knowledge about colon cancer incidence and prevention! If you do not currently have a licensed specialist to perform your colonoscopy, use our physician locator to find a qualified physician in your area.