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What is Colon Cancer?

Colon cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the large intestine (colon). The colon is the final part of the digestive tract.

Colon cancer typically affects older adults, though it can happen at any age. It usually begins as small, noncancerous (benign) clumps of cells called polyps that form on the inside of the colon. Over time some of these polyps can become colon cancers.

Stage 1 colorectal cancer is the earliest stage. The stages progress up to stage 4, which is the most advanced stage. Here are the stages of colorectal cancer:

  • Stage 1. The cancer has penetrated the lining, or mucosa, of the colon or rectum but hasn’t spread to the organ walls.
  • Stage 2. The cancer has spread to the walls of the colon or rectum but hasn’t affected the lymph nodes or nearby tissues yet.
  • Stage 3. The cancer has moved to the lymph nodes but not to other parts of the body yet. Usually, one to three lymph nodes are involved at this stage.
  • Stage 4. The cancer has spread to other distant organs, such as the liver or lungs.

What are the symptoms of colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer may not present any symptoms, especially in the early stages. If you do experience symptoms during the early stages, they may include:

  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • changes in stool color
  • changes in stool shape, such as narrowed stool
  • blood in the stool
  • bleeding from the rectum
  • excessive gas
  • abdominal cramps
  • abdominal pain

If you notice any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss getting a colon cancer screening.

Lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of colon cancer

You can take steps to reduce your risk of colon cancer by making changes in your everyday life. Take steps to:

  • Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants, which may play a role in cancer prevention. Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables so that you get an array of vitamins and nutrients.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all. If you choose to drink alcohol, limit the amount of alcohol you drink to no more than one drink a day for women and two for men.
  • Stop smoking. Talk to your doctor about ways to quit that may work for you.
  • Exercise most days of the week. Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days. If you’ve been inactive, start slowly and build up gradually to 30 minutes. Also, talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. If you are at a healthy weight, work to maintain your weight by combining a healthy diet with daily exercise. If you need to lose weight, ask your doctor about healthy ways to achieve your goal. Aim to lose weight slowly by increasing the amount of exercise you get and reducing the number of calories you eat.

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