10 things to know about colon cancer

The untimely and shocking death of US actor Chadwick Boseman, best known for playing King T’Challa in Marvel’s “Black Panther”, left fans and the film world stunned. 

The actor, aged 43, died last week after a battle with colon cancer, his family confirmed in a statement on August 28.


Boseman was diagnosed with colon cancer four years ago but had not made the information public.


His death prompted a worrying thought.  Isn’t colon cancer – also known as bowel cancer – an older person’s disease? What do we really know about this disease?


Consumption of diets high in red and processed meats can put one at risk  of colon cancer. Net  photos

The colon, also known as the large intestine, is the final part of the digestive tract. Its function is to get rid of food left over after the nutrients are removed from it, bacteria and other waste.

Cancer that affects the colon (colon cancer) starts when cells in the colon grow out of control and crowd out normal cells, as medics explain.

Even though doctors aren’t certain about the main cause of colon cancer, below are some of the facts you should be aware of as a tool for prevention.

Affects young and old

Although colon cancer mainly affects older adults, it can happen at any age.

According to Dr Fidel Rubagumya, a Clinical and Radiation Oncologist at Rwanda Military Hospital, this type of cancer can affect any age. He points out that he has dealt with patients as young as 20-year-olds as well as those in their 80s.

It is preventable

Colon cancer is considered to be one of the most preventable cancers. Medics recommend that people with a high risk of colon cancer consider early colon cancer screening. This is because when the cancer is detected in its early stages, there are higher chances of preventing it.

Most colorectal cancers begin as a polyp, these are harmless but if they are left undetected, they can develop into a precancerous condition and then cancer. This is where screening comes in handy for when the polyps are detected earlier, they can be removed and the cancer is, hence, prevented.

Risk factors 

Dr Rubagumya says with this cancer, there is a strong correlation with genetics and inheritance.

One is most likely to develop colon cancer if they have a relative who has had the disease. 

“There are known risk factors; some are hereditary and others are genetic conditions, family history of cancer among others for example with race, black people are more affected than others,” he says.

Lifestyle matters

One’s lifestyle choices can increase the risk of getting colon cancer. For example, over consumption of alcohol can put one at risk. Also, leading an unhealthy lifestyle that lacks exercising can cause obesity, and this not only increases the risk for cancer, it also affects the effectiveness of the treatment.


We are what we eat, therefore, indulging in diets high in red and processed meats can put one at risk. People who eat a lot of fat and cholesterol and little fibre may also be more likely to develop colon cancer.

Signs and symptoms 

Most common signs and symptoms are rectal bleeding, rectal pain and change in bowel habits, according to Dr Rubagumya.

Others signs include fatigue, a feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely, insistent abdominal discomfort such as cramps, gas or pain, weight loss and change in bowel habits, including diarrhoea or constipation among others.

Often a silent disease

Colon cancer is often a silent disease because at times it can develop with no symptoms at all. A number of people with colon cancer experience no symptoms, especially in the early stages of the disease, this is another reason for one to go for early screening with or without experiencing symptoms.

Health conditions 

Dr Rubagumya notes that certain health conditions can increase your risk to get colon cancer.

One’s risk of colon cancer increases if they have type 2 diabetes; inflammatory bowel disease and if they have an inherited syndrome like familial adenomatous polyposis.

Affects more men than women 

Although both men and women are equally at risk for colon cancer, men are more likely to develop this type of cancer.

It’s curable

Dr Rubagumya notes that though most patients in their settings present with advanced stages, if the cancer is caught early, chances of being cured are high.

He, therefore, stresses the importance of screening and explains that carrying out the screening with colonoscopy is very important.

He also notes that when it comes to treating colon cancer, it is done by surgery and chemotherapy.

“These treatment modalities are available in Rwanda,” he says.


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