Colon cancer, combined with rectal cancer, is the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 140,000 Americans are expected to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer, with about 50,000 dying from the disease this year.

Recently, the American Cancer Society released new recommendations for colon cancer screening. The new guidelines suggest men and women start the screening process at the age of 45 instead of the previous 50 year recommendation. The data behind this change is the increased rate of colon cancer diagnosis in younger adults. The rate of occurrence for this age group has risen significantly over the past 30 years. Someone born in 1990 now has twice the risk of colon cancer and four times the risk of rectal cancer, as does someone born in 1950, the new report noted.

The American Cancer Society approves of the following types of screenings:

Stool-based tests

• Highly sensitive fecal immunochemical test every year

• Highly sensitive guaiac-based fecal occult blood test every year

• Multi-targeted stool DNA test every three years

Visual exams of the colon and rectum

• Colonoscopy every 10 years

• CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) every five years

• Flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years

Please talk to your doctor about your screening options and what test might be best for you. Also, you need to report any type of bowel changes to your doctor. Changes can include blood in stool (bright red or dark), pain with bowel movements, abdominal pain, weakness, fatigue and weight loss. Another symptom is feeling as if you need to have a bowel movement after having had one.

If you have a family history of colon or rectal cancer, talk to your doctor as screening may need to start even earlier than 45 years of age.

Dr. Kris Gast is a board certified radiation oncologist. She has been in practice for 28 years, the last 21 at Fort Smith Radiation Oncology. Her column Cancer Demystified appears the third Friday each month in the Times Record. Send questions to