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For most adults, screening for colon cancer starts soon after turning 50. This because the chances of getting colon cancer increase as you get older. According to the CDC, 90% of cases occur in people 50 years or older. However, this doesn’t mean that adults younger than 50 can’t develop colon cancer and it’s important to know if you are at risk.

A history of colon cancer in the family means it could be genetic. If a close relative, generally your parent, sibling or child, has had colorectal polyps or colon cancer it is important to get screenings at a younger age. This risk is even higher if that family member was younger than 45-years-old when they were diagnosed with cancer, or if more than one close relative is affected. Additionally, if you have inflammatory bowel disease, your risk of colon cancer is increased.

Colon cancer forms when abnormal growths, called polyps, form in the colon or rectum. These polyps can mutate into cancer and spread throughout the colon. Thankfully, screening tests like a colonoscopy can find the polyps and your physician can remove them during a colonoscopy before they turn into cancer.

Colon cancer is one of the most treatable forms of cancer and there are a number of lifestyle factors that you can be aware of to actively reduce the risk of getting colon cancer. These include getting the recommended amount of physical activity, eating a healthy diet with fruits and vegetables, maintaining a healthy body weight and watching your consumption of alcohol and tobacco.

Even without inflammatory bowel disease or a family history of colon cancer, it is vital to listen to your body. If you think something is wrong, make an appointment with your doctor.

Beth-Ann Shanker, MD, is a board-certified general surgeon. Dr. Shanker has clinical interests in robotic surgery and minimally invasive techniques, colon and rectal cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, pelvic floor disorders, fecal incontinence, and anorectal disorders.