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Colon cancer: What you need to know (at any age)

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

File photo
File photo

In recent years, reports have shown a disturbing trend: more young adults being diagnosed with colorectal cancer than ever before.

According to Dr. Matthew Kalady, of Cleveland Clinic, when it comes to colon cancer, there are warning signs, regardless of age, that should never be ignored.

“The most important thing is if you notice bleeding with your bowel movements -- that’s not normal; bleeding is never normal,” he said. “There are a lot of different things that can cause bleeding, and bleeding doesn’t necessarily mean cancer, but it should be looked at.”

The primary screening tool for colon cancer is the colonoscopy.

Current recommendations typically call for screening to begin at age 50, for the average American with no symptoms.

But those who are at higher risk, or who have bowel symptoms, should have the procedure done sooner.

Kalady said some people are fearful of the colonoscopy procedure or the prep that comes with it.

But the preps have gotten better and some of the solutions are lower volumes and are easier to tolerate.

And alternative screening methods -- such as stool tests, that can help detect cancer, are being used in some cases.

Blood tests are also being researched as a possible screening tool in the future.

Too often, people write-off blood in the stool as hemorrhoids, but Kalady said it’s best to have any major change in bowel habits checked by a doctor right away.

“Even if you’re in your twenties, you need to have it looked at,” he said. “It might be that you just have something minor, but you should have that looked at by a professional. It’s important to make sure you get screened, and evaluated the right way, because if it’s something worrisome, it can be caught early and still be treated.”

Kalady said healthy habits, such as getting regular physical exercise and eating a low fat, high fiber diet, are the keys to lowering overall risk of developing colon cancer.

“Colon cancer can happen at any age,” said Kalady. “Don’t ignore symptoms. Whether you’re in your twenties, thirties, forties, fifties -- any age. If you have an issue, get it evaluated. It can happen to anybody.”