By Kathy Hubbard
This is a crappy subject, but because it’s Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month we’re going to talk about it. It. Yes, we’re going to talk about your poop.
Any change in your bowel habits (diarrhea, constipation or narrowing of the stool) that occurs for several days should be a cause for concern. You may have irritable bowel syndrome, or Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis, but you may not.
Blood in your stool may be caused by hemorrhoids, but then again, you know. Even if you can’t see it in your stool, losing blood into your digestive tract may lead to low red blood count. If your healthcare provider suspects you have anemia, you might want to talk about being tested for colorectal cancer.
Other symptoms of colorectal cancer may include cramping or abdominal pain, weakness and fatigue, unintended weight loss and a feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by doing so.
“With regular screening, colon cancer can be found early, when treatment is most effective,” The Colon Cancer Alliance’s website says. “In many cases, screening can prevent colon cancer by finding and removing polyps before they become cancer. And if cancer is present, earlier detection means a chance at a longer life — generally, five-year survival rates for colon cancer are lower the further advanced the disease is at detection.”
Although 90 to 95 percent of colon cancer deaths occur in those 50 years of age and older, this cancer doesn’t discriminate and can happen to men and women at any age. Remember, colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S. And, that one in twenty of us will get it.
“People with a first-degree relative (parent, sibling or offspring) who has colon cancer have two to three times the risk of developing the disease,” CCA tells us. Also at a higher risk are those who have chronic inflammatory intestinal diseases; those who eat a diet high in red meat, smoke and/or drink alcohol to excess.
“Most colon cancers develop first as colorectal polyps, which are abnormal growths inside the colon or rectum that may later become cancerous,” CCA says. “Screening detects precancerous polyps and allows them to be removed before turning into cancer. Screening also helps find colon cancer at an early state, when treatment often leads to a cure.”
The CCA estimates “if everyone 50 years or older had a regular screening test, as many as 80 percent of deaths from colon cancer could be prevented.” Wow.
Tests come under two categories, those that indicate cancer and those that detect cancer. Fecal occult blood tests come under the first category. They test the stool for signs that blood may be present that isn’t visible to the naked eye. In a stool DNA test the healthcare professional is looking for mutations caused from cancerous tumors or precancerous polyps. These tests require you to submit one or more portions of bowel movements for analysis.
The tests that can detect cancer are more invasive. A colonoscopy uses a long, lighted tube to view inside the rectum and the entire colon. The surgeon, at that time, can remove any polyps present and send them for evaluation. You are sedated for this test. Honestly, the worst part of the colonoscopy is the preparation. No kidding around, just imagine the worst case of diarrhea you’ve ever had and multiply it times ten.
Another option is a sigmoidoscopy. The difference, since the tool used is also a thin flexible tube with a camera at the end, is the portion of the colon that is seen. The preparation for this test isn’t as complicated and you aren’t sedated. The question is whether or not the physician can see enough to determine if there are cancerous polyps present.
A virtual colonoscopy uses x-rays and computers to take two- or three-dimensional images of the colon and rectum and a double-contrast barium enema consists of air and barium being pumped into your rectum to show polyps or tumors on x-rays.
Talk to your healthcare professional about getting tested. Be aware that many people with colon cancer experience no symptoms in the early stages allowing the cancer to metastasize before being detected. That’s crappy.
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or firstname.lastname@example.org.