This is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

Colorectal cancer is the second leading killer among cancers that affect both men and women in the U.S. However, at least 60 percent of deaths from this cancer could be prevented if everyone 50 years or older had regular colon screenings.

What is colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer is found in the large intestine or large bowel, commonly known as the colon. It can also occur in the rectum, the passage way connecting the colon to the anus.

Who are victims of colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer occurs most often in people 50 years or older. While colorectal cancer is seen in both men and women, the risk of this disease increases with age. Thus, it is especially important for these individuals to take the precautionary measures and get screened.

Are you at a high risk?

The chances of getting colorectal cancer may be higher than average if:

You or a close relative have had colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps.

You have inflammatory bowel disease.

You have a genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer.

If you have a family history or any of these items listed above, your physician may suggest you start getting screened at an earlier age or be tested more frequently.

Screening saves lives plain and simple

Like many health procedures, no one enjoys scheduling or experiencing the discomforts of test screenings. Yet, if you’re 50 or older, getting a colorectal cancer screening test could save your life.

How you may ask?

Colorectal cancer usually starts from polyps in the colon or rectum. A polyp is simply defined as a growth that shouldn’t be there. With time, certain polyps can turn into cancer. Screening tests can find precancerous polyps, which can then be removed before they turn into cancer. Screening tests can also find colorectal cancer early, when it is easier to treat and cure.

Types of screening tests

High-Sensitivity FOBT (stool test) – There are two types of FOBT. One type uses a chemical called guaiac to detect blood in the stool. The other type (the fecal immunochemical test or FIT) uses antibodies. For this test, a stick or brush is used to obtain a small amount of stool. This most commonly takes place in the comfort of your home. You then return the test to the doctor or a lab, where the stool sample is checked for blood.

Flexible Sigmoidoscopy (flex sig) – This test is performed by your doctor using a long, thin, flexible, lighted tube. He or she checks for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and lower third of the colon. This test may also be used in addition to the FOBT.

Colonoscopy

This is similar to flex sig, except your doctor uses a longer, thin, flexible, lighted tube. Once again, the doctor is checking for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and with the longer tube is able to check the entire colon. While performing the procedure, the doctor can identify and remove most polyps and some cancers.

If anything unusual is found during one of the other screening tests, many times a colonoscopy is used as a follow-up test.

What are the symptoms of colorectal cancer?

People who have polyps or colorectal cancer don’t always have symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they may include:

Blood in or on the stool (bowel movement).

Stomach pain, aches or cramps that persist.

Loss of weight without reason.

Plan of action

Actively take part in your health and get the care you deserve. If you are 50 years or older, don’t procrastinate or catch yourself saying “it won’t happen to me.” Schedule an appointment with your doctor and get screened for colorectal cancer. You are not just doing it for yourself. You’re doing it for your family and loved ones.

(Sources: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – (800) 232-4636, www.cdc.gov/screenforlife)

Kenneth Adams, D.O. FACP, is affiliated with UnityPoint Clinic- Gastroenterology in Fort Dodge.