The majority of Americans have never been screened for colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer affects the large intestine or the passageway connecting the colon to the anus – the rectum.

Jane Bolin, Ph.D., J.D., RN

Dr. Jane Bolin

“The nation’s second-highest death rate from cancer is from colorectal cancer,” says Jane N. Bolin, Ph.D., J.D., B.S.N., associate professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health. “Colon cancer usually begins as unwanted growths, also known as polyps, which over time develop into cancerous cells. Polyps can be detected early with screenings via a colonoscopy before they develop into cancer.”

Symptoms of colon cancer include blood in or on the stool, persistent stomach pain, aches and cramps, and/or unexplained weight loss.

Colon cancer affects both men and women, with rates higher in rural communities. African-Americans tend to have higher rates of colon cancer than some other population groups.

“Not all patients with colon cancer exhibit symptoms, and chances of colon cancer increase with age, so it’s important to maintain regular screenings every 10 years beginning at age 50,” Dr. Bolin says. “However, if you are under age 50 and have a close family member with a history of colorectal cancer or polyps, it is recommended you have a colonoscopy when you are 10 years younger than the family member was when they were first diagnosed.”

— Rae Lynn Mitchell