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Colon Cancer Risks and Prevention

As with all cancers, there are factors that may increase your risk for colon cancer, including:

  • Being over 50 years old – Colon and rectal cancers are more common as people get older.
  • Having a family history of colon and rectal cancers or polyps
  • Having a personal history of colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer
  • Sustaining a diet high in fat and low in fiber, as well as obesity
  • Smoking cigarettes

For people at risk of GI cancers including colon cancer, Penn Medicine’s Gastrointestinal Cancer Risk Evaluation Program provides clinical, genetic and research services.

Diseases such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), or Lynch syndrome, predispose people to develop colon polyps. An early diagnosis combined with appropriate treatment and follow-up can dramatically lower the chances of developing colon cancer.

In addition to hereditary and familial colon cancer, we evaluate for MYH associated polyposis (MAP), Peutz-Jeghers syndrome and juvenile polyps.

Prevent Colon Cancer with a Colonoscopy

The best way to prevent colon cancer or successfully treat it is to catch it early. And how do we catch it early? Through education and screening.  

Recognizing possible warning signs of cancer and taking prompt action can lead to early diagnosis. 

Signs and symptoms of colon cancer include:

  • A change in your bowel habits, such diarrhea, constipation or a change in the consistency of your stool that lasts longer than four weeks
  • 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

Colorectal cancer almost always develops from precancerous polyps (abnormal growths) in the colon or rectum. Screening tests such as a colonoscopy can find precancerous polyps, so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. Screenings may also find colorectal cancer early, when treatment works best.