Colon Cancer—Learn the Facts and Know Your Risk
This will be my last column, and it’s a tribute to my dad. Many of you know that my dad fought a valiant battle against end-stage colorectal cancer for over four years. Dad lost his battle over Thanksgiving, but his courage and resilience will always be a source of inspiration for me.
I firmly believe that knowledge is power, and that belief became a crystal-clear reality for me when I was faced with learning about a disease that was threatening to take the life of someone I loved. Taking the time to learn about his disease helped us make informed treatment decisions which were key to dad’s successful battle and overall quality of life.
Here are a few of the things I learned about colorectal cancer:
According to the National Cancer Institute, colon cancer is the fourth most common cancer among both men and women. While the exact causes are not known, certain factors are linked to an increased chance of developing colon cancer:
• Age. Most people who develop colon cancer are over the age of 50.
• Personal or family history. A person who has had colon cancer is at increased risk of developing it again. Parents, siblings or children of a person who has had colon cancer are also at higher risk.
• Polyps. Colon cancer may develop in certain polyps, called adenomas.
• Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s disease. People with these conditions may be at higher risk.
• Diet. Some evidence suggests that colon cancer may be associated with a diet high in fat and calories and low in fiber.
The most common symptom of colon cancer is a change in bowel habits, such as having diarrhea or constipation; feeling that your bowel does not empty completely; blood in your stool; stools that are narrower than usual; or frequently having gas pains, cramps or bloating.
These are common symptoms that most of us experience at one time or another, and they usually aren't due to cancer. It's precisely because they’re so common, though, that it’s important to talk with your doctor about when to begin screening for colon cancer.
Here are the available screening tests:
• Colonoscopy. Examines the rectum and entire colon using a lighted instrument.
• Sigmoidoscopy. Examines the rectum and lower colon.
• Fecal occult blood test. Checks for hidden blood in the stool.
• Double contrast barium enema. A series of x-rays of the entire colon and rectum.
• Digital rectal exam. Examines the lower part of the rectum.
As with all cancers, early detection increases the chance of successful treatment. If you have a family history or other risk factors for colon cancer, please talk with your doctor about which screening tests are right for you. It has been a privilege to write this column, and I wish you a long lifetime of good health.
Lynda Metz is the Director of Community Development at Bonner General Hospital. The facts and statistics in this article were provided courtesy of the National Cancer Institute. For more information, visit www.cancer.gov.