Bottoms up! No, not the raise-your-glasses-in-celebration bottoms up. Rather, raise your backside to celebrate your commitment to health and well-being. March is colon cancer awareness month. Like I said, “Bottoms up!” Colon cancer, what do you know, true or false?
1. It is usually not preventable.
2. It is usually diagnosed after age 70.
3. Obesity and smoking are risk factors.
According to the CDC, 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with colon cancer and 50,000 die from the disease annually. It is the second leading cause of cancer deaths that are almost always preventable because we have methods for early detection and effective treatment. Over 90 percent of colon cancer is diagnosed in those older than age 50.
For those at the half-century mark, the CDC has a message for you. Get a colonoscopy. The CDC recommends colon cancer screening at age 50. This is for those without any symptoms whatsoever. That is the purpose of a screening program, to find cancer early when there are no symptoms so treatment can be effective. Don't fall into the “I feel fine” group, that is fool’s thinking. Get screened.
Colon cancer often begins with non-malignant colon polyps that a gastroenterologist can detect and remove during a colonoscopy. For those with cancer, detection before the cells migrate out of the colon into lymph nodes and other organs is a lifesaver. Early detection saves lives.
What does screening mean? Well for the CDC, it means a colonoscopy every 10 years. In between that decade it is recommended that high sensitivity fecal-occult blood test (FOBT), or fecal immunochemical test (FIT) be performed yearly. There are other screening methods including flexible sigmoidoscopy, every 5 years with FOBT in the interim. A flexible sigmoidoscopy investigates only the lower part of the colon and rectum. Talk with your physician about the best approach for you.
Monitor yourself for symptoms of colon cancer. Blood belongs in blood vessels. Period. Any blood in the stool or toilet is not normal and should be investigated. Abdominal cramping or pain lasting longer than a few days should not be dismissed as “flu” or “something I ate.” Unexplained weight loss must be explained. We are generally designed to maintain (or gain) weight. Loss may be a subtle indicator of cancer.
Knowing the symptoms and understanding your specific risk factors will help prevent death from colorectal cancer. Age is a most significant risk factor. Inflammatory diseases such as Crohns' or those in which polyps proliferate, smoking, obesity and family history of colon cancer are also risk factors.
The preparation for colonoscopy is not pleasant but is generally well tolerated. And a few hours of running to the toilet are more easily tolerated than cancer treatment. After the prep, the rest is easy. Medications are given for sedation, the physician performs the procedure, and voila! You awaken wondering what happened.
Most insurance companies cover expenses related to colorectal cancer screening. The CDC has a program to assist low-income Americans in obtaining screening tests. Visit www.cdc.gov/cancer/colorectal for more information about the Screen for Life: National Colorectal Cancer Action Campaign. Medicare recipients can call 1-800-MEDICARE or go to www.medicare.gov.
First, get your bottoms up. Then toast yourself with a celebratory, “Bottoms Up!”
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Dr. Lori Boyajian-O’Neill can be contacted at email@example.com.