The first reaction one often gets when discussing matters of the intestines, colon and what they produce is “Ugh!” Well, we need to get over it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), colorectal cancer (also called colon cancer) is the all-around Number Two Cancer Killer in the United States. But it doesn’t have to be.We could lower that ranking and keep ourselves from joining the statistic with a willingness to get regularly tested. Colon cancer screening, called a “colonoscopy”, becomes vitally important every 3 to 5 years if you’re 50 or older, but is also gaining momentum for the under 50 crowd. It is one test for which you don’t want to wait until you are symptomatic. Colorectal cancer develops with few, if any, symptoms.
Too little, too late – What ARE the Symptoms?
Colorectal cancer took the health news spotlight in 1998 when TV anchorwoman Katie Couric lost her husband, Jay Monahan, to the disease. Thanks in part to Couric co-founding the National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance in 2000, awareness of the deadly cancer has been heightened.
Colorectal cancer generally involves both the colon and the rectum. Monahan, who died in his early 40’s, didn’t exhibit any symptoms of colon cancer until it was too late. However, if symptoms are present, they may include:
-A change in bowel habits, blood in or on the stool, strangely narrow stools
-Unexplained stomach discomfort
-Recurring pains, gas, indigestion
-Unexpected or drastic weight loss
Approximately 90% of cases occur in people over 50, but risks for colorectal cancer in people of any age can include:
-Chronic intestinal diseases like Crohn’s or Colitis
-History of colorectal cancer or polyps in colon and rectum, self or family
-Lifestyle factors like:
-Sedentary habits (low physical exercise – i.e., couch and computer potatoes!)
-Insufficient intake of vegetables, fruits, and fiber
-Regular alcohol consumption or smoking
What happens during a “colonoscopy”?
In a colonoscopy, the large intestine, colon and rectum are examined with a “colonoscope” – a long flexible tube with a camera on the end – inserted through the anus while the patient is under light sedation. It detects pre-cancerous polyps which can be removed during the procedure, and the doctor can also take biopsies for cancer testing.
Prior to the colonoscopy, the patient must thoroughly cleanse out the colon. Many of us have heard about the “awful liquid” that must be consumed the day before the procedure!
Some doctors will do a “sigmoidoscopy” first, which examines the last third of the large intestine; possibly when there is less suspicion of colon cancer, or the insurance company will not pay for a colonoscopy without a prior sigmoidoscopy.
Lower your chances for colorectal cancer!
Maintain a healthy diet with fiber, fruits and vegetables, get plenty of exercise, and do some painless internal cleansing on your own!
Also, be sure to have plenty of “good” intestinal bacteria to counter bad bacteria and toxins