Healthy lifestyle and early detection are key


Who is at risk of colon cancer?

Though colon cancer affects individuals of all ages, it is important to identify those who stand a greater chance of contracting the disease. The risk is divided into categories as indicated below:


  • Obesity – individuals who are overweight stand a higher risk of developing colon cancer.
  • Age – colon cancer can occur at any age, but 95% of cases are in adults age 45 and above.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – individuals diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or IBD are at a higher risk for colon cancer as well.
  • History of colorectal cancer or polyps – if polyps were found in a previous colonoscopy session and removed, the risk of developing colon cancer still exists. Cancer may develop on the rectum or colon or recurrent cancer can grow quickly.


  • Racial or ethnic background – those individuals with Ashkenazi Jews or African Americans ethnic backgrounds are at a higher risk of developing colon cancer. This group should be especially vigilant in getting checked regularly after age 45.
  • Family history – Inherited genes or shared environmental factors can increase the risk of developing colon cancer.


  • Alcohol – drinking heavily or those who are addicted to alcohol are at an increased risk of developing colon cancer.
  • Diet – a healthy diethigh in fiber, fruits and vegetables can lower the risk of colon cancer. Also, limit consumption of meat prepared through broiling, frying, grilling, as well as processed and red meat.
  • Tobacco–  inhaling or swallowing tobacco (a known carcinogen) increases the risk of developing colon cancer.
  • Inactive lifestyle – leading a sedentary life enhances the risk of developing this disease.


Colon cancer symptoms are only evident when cancer grows, and vary depending on the size of the tumor, the location of cancer and where it has spread. The symptoms may include weakness or fatigue, pain during bowel movement, cramps, and unexplained weight loss, among others.

Screening tests

  • Colonoscopy – a flexible tube with a camera on one end is inserted into the rectum to identify the presence of polyps.
  • Barium enema – liquid containing barium is injected into the colon after which an X-ray is taken to identify polyps.
  • Post-biopsy tests – colon cancer diagnosis, in this case, involves CT scans of the liver, lungs and abdomen, chest x-rays, among other tests.

Prevention tips

Proactive measures includea diet of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, regular exercise, cutting down on red meat and saturated fat intake, among others.  However, even with following a healthy lifestyle, some individuals will still develop cancer. Additional ways to protect yourself is to have regular colonoscopy, annual faecal occult blood tests, stool DNA testing, flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years and CT colonography every five years (or as recommended by a physician).

Treatment options

1. Colectomy – this surgical procedure gets rid of part or all of the entire colon.

2. Chemotherapy – makes use of chemicals to curtail the division of cells.

3. Radiotherapy – involves the destruction of cancer by focusing high-energy rays on cancer cells.


It may not be possible to detect cancer in the initial stages, but it is possible to prevent its further development once it has been detected.