Any kind of cancer is a pain in the ass, but
colon cancer is especially brutal. The disease that killed star Black Panther Chadwick Boseman at age 43 is alarmingly on the rise among people under 50 – and when young people are diagnosed, it’s often at more advanced – and often untreatable – stages. It is now the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.
So if you thought you didn’t have to worry about cancer until you’re old and gray, we’re here to give you a hard-to-swallow dose of reality. The good news is that by paying more attention to your poop, you can learn to recognize the symptoms of colon cancer before it turns your life to shit. Bathroom humor aside, here’s the straight poop about the bad things that can happen to your bowels.
Cover Photo: photographer (Getty Images)
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Know your risk factors.
Genetics are a major risk factor for colorectal cancer. It’s time to get on the horn and start talking to your family. No, not to say your goodbyes, but to do a deep dive into your kin’s medical history. You’re more likely to be stricken with bowel cancer if a relative has it, so start asking those uncomfortable questions. Also be aware that if you are African-American, your risk for colon cancer is higher.
Pay attention to your poop.
Changes in bowel movements are your first clue that something might be wrong. Look out for constipation or diarrhea, as well as a feeling that you’re not completely emptying your bowels when you go to the bathroom. Keep an eye out for skinny BMs (which might indicate a tumor is blocking your body’s exit route). Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool are also, well, red flags. Unintentional weight loss and fatigue are also symptoms of colon cancer.
Exercise can drastically cut your risk of colon cancer. A recent study published in the British Journal of Cancer found that young people who were physically active as teens and continued to be so as adults were 24 percent less likely to develop a precursor to colon cancer. It matters less what kind of exercise you do and when you do it as long as you do something that gets your blood pumping every day.
Change your diet.
Excessive processed meat, too much red meat, and too little fiber in your diet puts you at risk for colon cancer. Even seemingly “healthy” diets like keto and paleo can increase your risk because of their heavily carnivorous nature. That’s not to say that vegging out will save you – Boseman himself was “mostly vegan” – but it can’t hurt, either. Looking for a healthy medium? Focus on whole foods, lots of fruits and vegetables, and lower your fat intake.
Watch your weight.
Obesity increases your risk of colon cancer – and makes it more likely that you’ll die from it if you get it – so if you’re carrying a few extra pounds, start moving more and eating less to drop the weight.
86 your vices.
Drinking and smoking are bad for you. You know this. If you value your future health, knock it off already. (Or at least reduce your intake.)
If you’re experiencing any of the aforementioned symptoms, or just sense that something’s off in the vicinity of your rear end, say so to your doctor. MDs have heard it all before, so there’s no need to be embarrassed. If you feel like your doctor isn’t taking your colorectal concerns seriously, seek out a specialist. Better safe than sorry.
Plan to get screened.
No one looks forward to a colorectal screening, but by age 45, you need to get one. Luckily, the days of colonoscopies being the standard of care are fading; now there are different, less invasive, ways to screen for colon cancer if you don’t want to put yourself through the most uncomfortable kind of ass play in existence. Stool tests, X-rays, and CT scans can all help diagnose the disease.