A colon cancer test may be used to detect blood in the stool which can indicate cancerous or precancerous growths in the colon.
Here we talk you through everything you need to know about colon cancer tests, as well as whether or not you should consider taking a colon cancer test.
The most common at home colon cancer tests are called fecal immunochemical tests, or FIT tests.
FIT tests are used to identify the presence of blood in the stool. Blood in the stool is a symptom of colon cancer. It is not always visible to the naked eye, but identifying it may help you to indicate cancerous or precancerous cells in the body.
It’s important to note from the offset that an FIT test won’t offer a definitive diagnosis, rather it will help to detect if further screening for colon cancer (such as a colonoscopy) is required.
Should you take a Colon Cancer test?
The American Cancer Society recommends that people commence regular screening at the age of 45, or younger if you have a family history of colon cancer.
You should especially consider colon cancer testing, and potentially at a younger age if:
- You have a family history of colon cancer
- You are experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms
- You have a family or personal history of benign tumors (adenomas)
- You have undergone radiation therapy
- You have Crohn's disease
- You have ulcerative colitis
- You have Lynch syndrome/HNPCC or FAP
- You have type 2 diabetes
Those who are currently living with inflammatory colon diseases (IBD) are at an increased risk of developing colon cancer, however, it is also important to remember that you are at an increased risk of receiving a positive result using an FIT test due to inflammation and/or bleeding in the colon.
Whether you receive a negative or a positive result, you should consult with your health professional to ensure that you are healthy and well if you continue to experience symptoms or you have a strong family history of colon cancer.
What are the symptoms of Colon Cancer?
More often than not, colon cancer does not have any symptoms.
In instances where symptoms are present, they may include:
- Blood in the stool
- Rectal bleeding
- Unexplained pain in the stomach
- Loose stools
- A feeling that your bowel doesn't empty completely
- Weakness or fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
Colon cancer begins and affects the large intestine (colon). It can occur at any age, however, it typically affects older adults, and those over the age of 45 according to Mayo Clinic.
Colon cancer generally starts as a small clump of non-cancerous or benign cells. Over time the small clumps of cells, known as polyps may grow into a bigger cluster of cells known as colon cancer.
Regular screening tests help prevent colon cancer by identifying polyps early on. If they are diagnosed and removed in the early stages, most patients will go on not to experience further symptoms.
On the other hand, if early detection does not occur and colon cancer develops, many treatments are available to help control it, including surgery, radiation therapy and drug treatments, such as chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy.
Colon cancer tests are also sometimes referred to as “colorectal tests” or “bowel tests”. Colon cancer is sometimes called colorectal cancer, which is a term that combines colon cancer and rectal cancer, which begins in the rectum.
Again, it is important to note that most people with colon cancer experience no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. When symptoms appear, they'll likely vary, depending on the cancer's size and location in your large intestine. Due to the very subtle nature of the disease, it is very important to ensure that you undergo regular screening, particularly if you have a family history of the disease.
What are the causes of Colon Cancer?
It is not widely understood what causes colon cancer.
As Mayo Clinic explains, healthy cells grow and divide in an orderly way to keep your body functioning normally. But when a cell’s DNA is damaged and becomes cancerous, cells continue to divide — even when new cells aren’t needed. As the cells accumulate, they form a tumor.
With time, the cancer cells can grow to invade and destroy normal tissue nearby. And cancerous cells can travel to other parts of the body to form deposits there (metastasis).
What are the risk factors of Colon Cancer? **
Some of the most common risk factors of colon cancer include:
- Older age. Colon cancer is most likely to affect those over 50.
- African-American race. African-Americans have a greater risk of colon cancer.
- A personal history of colorectal cancer or polyps. Those who have had colon cancer or noncancerous colon polyps are at a greater risk.
- Inflammatory intestinal conditions. Chronic inflammatory diseases increase the risk of colon cancer.
- Inherited syndromes that increase colon cancer risk. Genetics are responsible for a small number of colon cancer cases.
- Family history of colon cancer. You’re more likely to develop colon cancer if you have a blood relative who has had the disease.
- Low-fiber, high-fat diet. Colon cancer and rectal cancer has been associated with the Western diet, which is low in fiber and high in fat and calories.
- A sedentary lifestyle. People who are inactive are more likely to develop colon cancer.
- Diabetes. People with diabetes or insulin resistance have an increased risk of colon cancer.
- Obesity. People who are obese have an increased risk of colon cancer
- Smoking. People who smoke may have an increased risk of colon cancer.
- Alcohol. Heavy use of alcohol increases your risk of colon cancer.
- Radiation therapy for cancer. Radiation therapy directed at the abdomen to treat previous cancers increases the risk of colon cancer.
Colon Cancer in the U.S.?
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States, excluding skin cancer. The American Cancer Society’s estimates for the number of colorectal cancer cases in the United States for 2021 are:
- 104,270 new cases of colon cancer
- 45,230 new cases of rectal cancer
The rate of people being diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer each year has dropped overall since the mid-1980s, mainly because more people are getting screened and changing their lifestyle-related risk factors.
Between 2013 to 2017, incidence rates dropped by about 1% each year. But this downward trend is mostly in older adults and masks rising incidence among younger adults since at least the mid-1990s. From 2012 through 2016, it increased every year by 2% in people younger than 50 and 1% in people 50 to 64.
Overall, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is: about 1 in 23 (4.3%) for men and 1 in 25 (4.0%) for women. A number of other factors (described in Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors) can also affect your risk for developing colorectal cancer.
If you are wondering if you should take a colon cancer test, the simple answer is yes! Get screened and put your mind at ease.
We recommend the LetsGetChecked colon cancer test.
Written by Hannah Kingston on July 23 2021
- Key Statistics for Colorectal Cancer- cancer.org
- Colon cancer - mayoclinic.org
- Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors - cancer.org