Colon cancer may not be at the top of your list of things to talk about with family and friends. However, it can be a lifesaving conversation. 1 in 20 people will be diagnosed with colon cancer. For this reason, advocates for colon cancer awareness have designated March as National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the US, and the second leading cause of cancer death. It affects men and women of all racial and ethnic groups and is most often found in people 50 years or older. However, incidence in those younger than 50 is on the rise.
The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be 149,500 new cases this year, which is up from 147,950 in 2020, with approximately 53,000 passing away this year from the disease.
WHAT IS COLORECTAL CANCER?
Colorectal cancer refers to cancer in the colon and/or rectum, or both. As the graphic below shows, the colon is part of the large intestine or large bowel. The rectum is the passageway that connects the colon to the anus. Most colorectal cancers develop first as polyps, which are abnormal growths inside the colon or rectum that may later become cancerous if they are not removed.
Colorectal cancer is very treatable when it is discovered early. Even if it spreads into nearby lymph nodes, surgical treatment followed by chemotherapy is very effective. In the most advanced cases — when the cancer has spread to the liver, lungs, or other sites — treatment can often make surgery an option and can prolong and add to quality of life. Research is constantly being done to learn more and provide hope for people in all colorectal cancer stages.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF COLORECTAL CANCER?
Colorectal polyps and colorectal cancer don’t always cause symptoms, especially at first. Someone could have polyps or colorectal cancer and not know it. That is why getting screened regularly for colorectal cancer is so important.
If you have symptoms, they may include—
- A change in bowel habits.
- Blood in or on your stool (bowel movement).
- Diarrhea, constipation, or feeling that the bowel does not empty all the way.
- Abdominal pain, aches, or cramps that don’t go away.
- Losing weight and you don’t know why.
If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor. Colon and rectal cancer symptoms can also be associated with many other health conditions. Since the early signs of cancer often do not include pain, it is important not to wait and see your doctor soon after you start having symptoms. Only a medical professional can determine the cause of your symptoms.
COLORECTAL CANCER SCREENING
Colorectal cancer screening tests are tests or exams that are performed at routine intervals based on a person’s risk factors. These screening tests look signs of colorectal cancer when a person does not have any symptoms. The goal is to find the cancer early, which will improve chances for a successful treatment and recovery.
Screening for colorectal cancer should start at age 45, for the average risk person, based on new recommendations from the American Cancer Society. There are several screening options available, including stool-based tests and visual exams. A colonoscopy is the preferred screening option as it can also help in the prevention of colon cancer. When small polyps are found and removed during a colonoscopy, it can prevent them from developing into cancerous tumors years later. It is also important to note, that if you choose to screen for colorectal cancer with a stool-based test and it reveals positive or abnormal results, you should have a follow up colonoscopy to complete the screening process.
When it comes to colorectal cancer, the most common symptom is NO symptom, which is why it is so important to have regular screening. If you are 45, with an average risk, get screened!
FIVE REASONS WHY TOMORROW CAN’T WAIT:
1. Screening can’t wait. Colorectal Cancer doesn’t care about age or where you are from, and it doesn’t just strike the older population. Screening is the No. 1 way to prevent colorectal cancer.
2. Warning signs can’t wait. If you notice any symptoms like blood in your stool, anemia, weight loss, abdominal pain, fatigue, changes in your digestion processes or narrowing stool, book an appointment with your doctor, immediately—especially if you have a family history of the disease.
3. Your family can’t wait. Ask your loved ones if there is family history of the disease or ask them if they have ever been screened for the disease. Create a healthy and open dialog with loved ones on why it is important to get screened and discuss screening options available.
4. Care can’t wait. Patients and caregivers depend on support when they face this devastating disease.
5. A cure can’t wait. 53,000 Americans will die from colorectal cancer this year; for them, a cure can’t wait. Detecting colorectal cancer early is the key to prevention and to ending this disease within our lifetime.
If you are over the age of 45 and want to schedule a screening colonoscopy or discuss other options for colorectal cancer screening, please talk with your healthcare provider. Guthrie County Hospital has several screening options available, including colonoscopies.