Why should I be concerned about colon cancer?

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death. More than half of deaths from colon cancer could be prevented with screening. However, one out of every three adults is not up-to-date with screening.

How does colon cancer develop?

Colon cancer starts as a growth or “polyp” on the lining of the colon. If the polyp is removed, the cancer may be prevented. What are the symptoms of polyps or colon cancer? Changes in bowel habits, blood in the stool, stomach pain, or weight loss may be signs of colon cancer. But many people don’t have any symptoms. This is why it’s so important to get screened.

Who is at risk of getting colon cancer?

The risk goes up as you get older. Most people should get screened starting at age 50. People at higher risk may need to get screened earlier. You may be at higher risk if:

  • you are African American
  • you or a family member has had polyps or colon cancer
  • you have inflammatory bowel disease
  • you have certain inherited genes

Certain lifestyle habits can also increase the risk of colon cancer. Here are some things you can do to help reduce your risk:

  • limit how much red meat (beef) and processed meat (hot dogs, deli meat) you eat
  • eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • stay active
  • keep a healthy weight
  • stop smoking
  • avoid heavy alcohol use

How can I get screened for colon cancer?

A doctor can look at your colon with a camera (colonoscopy). Or you can use a test that looks for blood in your stool. Each of these tests has pros and cons. Talk with your health care provider to find out which is best for you.

If you have a colonoscopy, you’ll need to take medicine called a “bowel prep” to clean out your colon beforehand. This will help your doctor see the lining of your colon very clearly during the test. You must follow the directions for taking it so any polyps or cancer don’t get missed. You will also need to drink plenty of fluids to keep hydrated and avoid any red or purple liquids that could be mistaken for blood in your colon. Taking a “bowel prep” is not always pleasant, but it is important to do it correctly. Ask your pharmacist or prescriber for tricks to make the bowel prep easier to tolerate.

Where can I learn more about colon cancer?

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636)