colon cancer

March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month

An estimated 150,000 Americans are diagnosed with colon cancer each year, and in 2023, 53,000 people died from this disease. Luckily, colon cancer is largely preventable with early detection. This week, Dr. Bitner joins Fox 17 to discuss risk factors, symptoms, and testing options for colon cancer.

Fact #1: 

Colon cancer is more common among African Americans than people of other races. Other risk factors include family history, a personal history of colon or rectal polyps, having inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis, eating a diet high in processed low-fiber food, and obesity. The average age of colorectal cancer diagnosis is 66, but there has been a rise in early-onset colorectal cancer in people younger than 50. 

Fact #2:

Symptoms are not always present, but schedule a visit with your healthcare provider if these symptoms occur for more than 10 days:

  • A change in bowel habits.
  • Blood in or on your stool.
  • Diarrhea, constipation, or feeling that the bowel does not empty all the way.
  • Abdominal pain, aches, or cramps that don’t go away.
  • Unexplained weight loss.


Fact #3:

The sooner colon cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat. The American Cancer Society recommends screenings for all people of average risk, starting at age 45. Your healthcare provider will recommend early screening if you are at higher risk.

Fact #4:

There are two ways to screen for Colorectal cancer. Colonoscopies are the gold standard of testing and involve having a bowel prep followed by a procedure where a camera is inserted to examine the walls of your colon and rectum. Colonoscopies are recommended every ten years but could be more frequent if abnormal cells are found. Another option is a Cologuard Stool Test, which involves sending a sample of your bowel movements to a lab. The test looks for cancer cell DNA and blood. If this test is negative, it is recommended that you repeat testing every three years. If the Cologuard test is positive, your provider will schedule a follow-up colonoscopy. 

Patient Story: 

Jane, 42, was a busy mom and worked part-time. She ate a healthy diet, ran two miles daily, and got her check-ups. Lately, on a few of her runs, Jane experienced rectal urgency and barely made it home each time. Once home, she had loose stool and noticed dark blood as well. Jane did not think much of it until the following week when she experienced cramps, belly pain, and more bloody loose stools. 

After talking to her mom, Jane found out her cousin had been diagnosed with colon cancer. With this in mind, she made an appointment with her doctor. Her provider recommended a colonoscopy due to her change in bowel habits and family history. Unfortunately, the test came back positive for colon cancer. Thankfully, it was early-stage colon cancer, giving Jane treatment options. She had surgery and chemotherapy and was eventually cancer-free! Jane is grateful she didn’t ignore her symptoms! She now helps schedule screenings for that all her siblings and cousins.

Health Tip of the Week: 

Know your risk for colorectal cancer. Talk to your doctor about having a rectal exam at your next physical, and don’t wait to start screenings. Colon cancer is preventable!   

Watch the full segment.