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Wednesday, April 16, 2014
More and more people have tuned into the message. Unfortunately all too many of our friends and neighbors have tuned out, even when their body is screaming for help! While discussions of colorectal cancer awareness may not be a hit in polite circles of conversation (remember when breast cancer awareness wasn't either?) some even refuse to speak or listen privately. The warning signs can be subtle or clear, but only if you pay attention to the signals your body sends will you catch the message.
Just when it seems we are making progress in the drive to promote colon health and awareness, the American Cancer Society publishes statistics that prove us wrong. Cancer of the colon and rectum remains one of the most common causes of death due to cancer in Americans- second only to lung cancer. Over 150,000 Americans can expect to receive the diagnosis of colorectal cancer in 2010, and over one-third will ultimately die of their disease. The fact that more than half present to their doctor after the cancer has spread to lymph nodes or beyond is proof that many are not listening to the messages from their body, friends, family, physicians, and media. In Ohio, less than 45% of people who should go for a screening exam actually go! We know we can make a positive impact upon this deadly disease, especially when it is detected in its early stages. In fact, it is curable in over 90% of people when found as an early yet invasive cancer. Believe it or not, colorectal polyps can be detected BEFORE they turn into cancer, and when removed the risk of cancer formation from that polyp is gone. So what are the signals? Who should be listening?
Signals can be extremely subtle, like a change in bowel habits. A new yet persistent change in the character of bowel movements can be a clear signal of something amiss. Blood in a bowel movement is never normal, and should be thoroughly evaluated by your physician. Blood can be visible and bright red, maroon, or even black; sometimes it is hidden in the stool and special testing is required to detect it. Pelvic pain, pressure, and abdominal bloating can also signal an abnormality, and should be investigated. Resist the urge to exhaust the list of over-the-counter preparations in an effort to avoid evaluation by your doctor!
Signals are sent by the colon when something is wrong. My goal is lofty- to prevent the need for our colons to send those signal in the first place! So listen up- if you are fifty and healthy, with no family history of polyps or colorectal cancer, get screened. If your family has had difficulty with polyps or cancers, especially in younger members, get screened early, perhaps at 40. If you are of African-American heritage, start your screening process at the age of 45 years. If you have a chronic inflammatory condition affecting your colon, get periodic endoscopic exams to look for malignant change. And if your colon is speaking to you, LISTEN! No one dies of embarrassment, but all too many of our friends die of colorectal cancer.
Last Reviewed: Feb 02, 2010
Janice Frederick Rafferty, MD
Professor of Surgery
Chief of Colorectal Surgery Division
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati