If you’re over 40 and have rectal bleeding, don't assume it's just a case of hemorrhoids. In the presence of other symptoms - such as a change in bowel habits, abdominal cramps or pain, unexplained anemia or weight loss - you could be suffering from colon cancer.

Colon, colorectal, or bowel cancer are the terms used to describe cancer which strikes the colon, rectum, or both. These account for about 20 percent of deaths in the United States. Over a hundred thousand Americans have the disease and almost 50,000 die from it yearly.

What are your chances of developing colon cancer? The risk greatly increases after the age of 50, more so if you have a family history of the disease or a history of colon polyps or ulcerative colitis. A high-fat diet and lack of fiber has also been implicated in the disease.

"Although the precise cause of colon cancer is unknown, some studies suggest that diet plays an important role. It has been suggested that the higher proportion of animal fat in our diet may account for the large amount of colorectal cancer in the United States compared with countries such as Japan where the dietary emphasis is on vegetables, poultry and fish," according to Dr. David E. Larson, editor-in-chief of the “Mayo Clinic Family Health Book.”

Except in those with no symptoms, colon cancer sends out warning signals which should be brought to a doctor's attention. These include a change in the size and shape of the stool and rectal bleeding.

Sadly, these signals are often ignored or mistaken for something else. This was revealed by Drs. Adriano V. Laudico, Divina B. Esteban, Corazon A. Ngelangel, and Lilia M. Reyes in the “Cancer Facts and Estimates.”

"The mistaken obsession of our physicians with amebiasis and other forms of inflammatory bowel diseases had for decades been a major factor that had delayed diagnosis of colon cancer. The wider availability of antidiarrheals, antibiotics, and amoebecides may have worsened the situation. Too many physicians still insist on giving vitamin preparations and hematinics for chronic unexplained weight loss and anemia," they said.

What should you do then? If you experience any of the above symptoms, see a doctor as soon as possible. A rectal examination will confirm the presence of suspicious lesions in the lower part of the rectum. This should be done yearly in people over 40. (Next: Screening procedures for colon cancer.)

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Author's Bio: 

Sharon Bell is an avid health and fitness enthusiast and published author. Many of her insightful articles can be found at the premier online news magazine www.HealthLinesNews.com.