Morning Rounds: Colon cancer awareness month

NORFOLK, Va. - March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month, and News 3 medical expert Dr. Ryan Light is breaking down the signs and symptoms.

"The main symptoms of colon cancer are abdominal pain and weight loss," explained Dr Light.  "Changes in bowel pattern (either constipation and/or diarrhea) can be warning signs.  In addition to these changes, rectal bleeding and changes in stool shape and/or size can also be symptoms of colon cancer."

Dr. Light said screening for colon cancer should begin at age 50 for both women and men.

"Screening should take place until the age of 75," he added.  "If there is a family history of colon cancer, screening should be started 10 years [earlier that the] age that the family member was diagnosed."

While the colonoscopy is the standard screening procedure used to detect colon cancer, Dr. Light said there are other options.

"Sigmoidoscopy is recommended every five years in conjunction with an annual fecal immunochemical test (FIT), which uses antibodies to detect blood in the stool," he explained.  "A fecal occult blood test is an at home test that uses a fecal sample smear to detect blood in the stool.

"The newest screening option is a test that combines FIT and DNA markers to detect both blood and cellular changes occurring in the colon," he said.  "For this test, an entire bowel movement is sent in for screening.  It is suggested that the testing be performed every three years."

Dr. Light said there is no single "best test" for any person.

"Each test has pros and cons," he said.  "Question your healthcare provider to answer specifics.  Personal preferences, existing medical conditions, and family history are all factors used to determine the best screening method."