Being aware of your digestive system and its daily cycle can help you know when to get checked for colon cancer, according to physicians at UT Southwestern Medical Center.
“The old saying ‘listen to your gut’ holds true when it comes to your health,” says Dr. Amit Singal, a gastroenterologist at UT Southwestern.
“If you notice differences that persist more than a week, contact your physician. Many conditions can cause digestive symptoms, but if it is cancer and you catch it early, you’ll have a better prognosis.”
Possible early symptoms that people should pay attention to include:
A change in the diameter of your bowel movements
Blood in your bowel movements
Persistent lower abdominal pain or discomfort
Even without symptoms, everyone at average risk should be tested for colon cancer when they turn 50, says Dr. Singal, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and Clinical Sciences. Several options for colon cancer testing are available.
Having a full colonoscopy has the advantage of preventing cancer by removing polyps during the procedure, before they can grow to become cancerous.
A stool test, known as FIT (fecal immunochemical test), also is an effective screening tool if done annually.
This year, the Food and Drug Administration approved a new blood-based test for colon cancer.
This may be an option for average-risk patients who do not currently undergo screening, but colonoscopy and FIT are still the preferred screening tests, according to Dr. Singal, part of the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center.
No matter which test you choose, it’s important to know your history. Dr. Singal suggests that people of any age who have a family history of colon cancer contact their physician to discuss their risk, especially those with relatives who were diagnosed under the age of 50.