How is the most preventable, curable cancer also the second leading cause of death of all of the cancers in the US? It’s time we had a serious talk about Colorectal Cancer (aka “colon cancer”) and put an end to the needless deaths.
Nationwide, clinicians & advocacy groups are joining together this March to raise awareness of Colorectal Cancer Month and educate you about the importance of regular screening on this often symptomless killer. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that as many as 60% of the 50,000 annual deaths could be avoided through regular screening of those aged 50 plus. The Mayo Clinic continues, “80-90% of colorectal cancer patients are restored to normal health if their cancer is detected and treated in the earliest stages.” Those are pretty good odds–IF you do your part and have regular screenings to catch it before it’s too late.
Many of our Homecare Advocate readers are caregivers and often put the needs of others before their own. Their schedule is full, their personal time is limited, and they put off going to the doctor and doing routine maintenance for their health. Especially when it’s an embarrassing procedure like a colonoscopy. However, Colorectal Cancer is a deadly, but preventable cancer that will silently sneak up on you if you aren’t proactive. Don’t wait until you have symptoms–which may never occur until it’s too late. Invest in yourself the way you invest in others. Take care of yourself like you care for your loved ones. Don’t let your responsibilities become your excuse for not doing it. Make time. You deserve it, and you owe it to yourself. It can Save. Your. Life.
Here are some commonly asked questions:
1. What is Colorectal Cancer?
Colorectal Cancer is a type of cancer that typically begins as a polyp and develops into cancer in the large intestine (colon) or rectum. Through regular screening, polyps are often discovered before they become cancerous or while the cancer is still in Stage 0. In these instances, it can be removed during a colonoscopy. For more advanced stages (I-IV), surgery may be necessary. Over 140,000 people are diagnosed with Colorectal Cancer each year in the United States.
2. What are Common Symptoms?
Unfortunately, Colorectal Cancer often develops without symptoms, which is why regular screening is so important. However, of those who do experience symptoms, they include:
- A change in bowel habits (lasting more than a few days)
- Blood in stool or rectal bleeding
- Cramping/stomach pain/gas pains
- Feeling bloated/full in stomach
- Weakness & Fatigue
- Decreased appetite
- Losing weight when trying not to
3. Am I at a Greater Risk?
Colorectal Cancer predominantly affects people 50 or older. However, people with a personal/family history of colorectal polyps, inflammatory bowel disease, Chron’s Disease, cancer (reproductive/breast/colorectal etc) should speak with their physician about an increased risk and possible need to do screening before age 50. Also, those who have a diet high in fat, don’t exercise, drink alcohol, and/or smoke increase their risk. To date, there has not been a correlation between Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Colorectal Cancer.
4. How Do I Reduce My Risk of Colorectal Cancer?
First and foremost, get regular screenings! Starting at age 50:
- Every 10 yrs: Colonoscopy
- Every 3-5 yrs: Flexible Sigmoidoscopy
- Every yr: High-Sensitivity FOBT (Stool Test)
The stool tests are easily administered in the doctor office or the convenience of your own home and then sent off to a lab for evaluation. The flex sig is often done at your physician’s office where a short, thin, lit tube is partially inserted into your rectum & part of your colon. The colonoscoy, like the flex sig, uses a thin lit tube, but it checks the rectum and entire colon.
Moderate exercise, and a healthy diet low in red meat and fat while high in fiber are shown to help prevent Colorectal Cancer. Also, smoking increases the risk of cancer by up to 40%, so smokers should quit.
5. Any Advice for a Colonoscopy?
Focus on the Why. Many say that they put off getting a colonoscopy because it is awkward and embarrassing. But developing Colorectal Cancer is a far worse alternative! Katie Couric, whose husband died of colon cancer reminds people, “Don’t die of embarrassment!” Get screened. 95% of tumors are discovered during colonoscopies, so it is vital that you go through with it. Check with your insurance company; many plans cover Colorectal Cancer screenings. Follow your physician’s orders for the prep exactly. It is especially important to thoroughly cleanse your colon via diet and medications so that your doctor can get a clear look at the lining of your colon. Dress comfortably, wearing loose-fitting pants (or perhaps a skirt/dress) and warm socks. Have someone drive you to your appointment, as you should not drive after being sedated. After your screening, call your sibling/neighbor/friend and urge them to as well. It wasn’t that bad, right? Be the accountability buddy that could help save a life.
Watch this video interview with Katie Couric, whose husband died of Colon Cancer in the late 1990s. Since his death, she has made it a priority to educate people about the importance of screenings and remove the stigma associated with screenings. You can also learn more about her advocacy work here.
Don’t delay; get screened!