Prescription for Health

Tips for preventing colon cancer

Key facts and prevention tips during colon cancer awareness month


Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women, and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. About 90 percent of cases occur in people which are 50 years old or older, and on average, one in 20 people are at risk for developing colon cancer. Of course this risk varies depending on individual risk factors but in 2014 alone, almost 137,000 people were diagnosed with colon cancer and 50,000 people lost their lives to it. African American men and women are where colon cancer mortality rates are the highest.

As with many cancers, people who have colon cancer often experience no symptoms in the early stages. When symptoms appear, they'll likely vary, depending on the cancer's size and location in your large intestine. The signs and symptoms of colon cancer include abnormal bowel habits (i.e. constipation, diarrhea, or a change in the consistency of your stool), rectal bleeding or bloody stool, continuous abdominal pain, the feeling of incomplete emptying of bowel, weakness or fatigue, and unexplained weight loss.

Who is at risk for colorectal cancer?

  • People age 50 and over (90 percent of new cases occur in people ages 50 and over)
  • Those with inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis.
  • People with an immediate family member with a history of colon cancer have 2-3 times the risk of developing colon cancer.
  • African-Americans have a 20 percent higher risk of developing colon cancer and a 45 percent higher mortality rate.
  • Those with the following lifestyle habits: Physical inactivity, a diet low in fruits, vegetables, fiber and high in fat, being overweight or obese, alcohol and tobacco use.

Research suggest there is a link between eating red and processed meats and developing colon cancer. If you are eating red meat three or more times weekly, you might be inadvertently increasing your risk of colon cancer. For the most part, this includes people who eat some type of red meat almost every day, and more than recommended amount at each sitting. The recommended amount is a 4-ounce serving.

As with all cancers, early detection is key. With regular screening, colon cancer can be found early. This is when treatment is most effective. With screening and early detection, colon cancer can even be prevented. If the cancer is found early enough when it is confined to the colon or rectum, over 90 percent of patients survive more than five years. As mentioned, treatment is also most effective with early diagnosis. Treatment for colon cancer includes surgery for early-stage colon cancer, surgery for invasive colon cancer, surgery for advanced cancer, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or targeted drug therapy.

The best way to reduce your risk for colon cancer is to get screened regularly. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people start screening for colon cancer at age 50. Screening includes using high-sensitivity fecal occult blood testing, a sigmoidoscopy, or a colonoscopy. Screening should continue until age 75.

Dr. Samadi is a board-certified urologic oncologist trained in open and traditional and laparoscopic surgery and is an expert in robotic prostate surgery. He is chairman of urology, chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital and professor of urology at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. He is a medical correspondent for the Fox News Channel's Medical A-Team and the chief medical correspondent for am970 in New York City. Learn more at Visit Dr. Samadi's blog at Follow Dr. Samadi on Twitter and Facebook.