By Robin Baradarian, MD, FACG
Dr.Baradarian serves as an assistant professor of medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and concurrently serves as chief of gastroenterology and director of interventional endoscopy at Beth Israel Medical Center, Kings Highway. Dr. Baradarian also serves as co-director of The Greater New York Ambulatory Surgical Center and can be reached at nygicare.com.
Colon cancer kills more people each year than either prostate cancer or breast cancer. Too often it develops without warning.
The disease can be triggered by a variety of causes, the leading being age. Both men and women over 50 are far more susceptible to the growth of colon cancer. Other causes can be the presence of colorectal polyps, which over time can manifest themselves into a fast-spreading, deadly cancer. Other common causes are family history, chronic bouts of celiac disease or Crohn’s disease — both severe inflammatory bowel conditions — and a history of breast, uterine, or ovarian cancer in women.
The Importance of Screening
Colorectal cancer, in its early stages, doesn’t present any clearly noticeable symptoms, which is why regular checks are a must. Though the prospects of developing colorectal cancer are frightening, you have a good chance of securing your health if you are checked regularly.
The current guidelines are that after the age of 50 a colonoscopy every ten years is a must. (Patients with irregular or positive test result should adjust their screenings as recommended by their physician). Someone with a family history of colon cancer or chronic inflammatory bowel conditions should follow even more frequent regimen.
In addition to the colonoscopy check-up every ten years, those over 50 should have a flexible virtual colonoscopy, or digital rectal exam every 3-5 years. A virtual colonoscopy procedure involves taking images of the large intestine using an MRI exam, while a digital rectal exam involves an oral procedure performed by your health professional who inserts a lubricated gloved finger into the rectum to feel for abnormal areas. Other screening methods include a fecal occult blood test, sigmoidoscopy, and double contrast barium enema. The National Cancer Institute has an excellent information sheet describing all the various screening procedures as well as what is known about the strengths and weaknesses of each.
It bears saying again: Colon cancer is treatable if caught early. The problem that persists today is the staggeringly small number of people who get regular colorectal cancer checks. In many of these cases a regimen of checks had not been followed and the cancer, when found, was already too advanced to properly treat.
Types of Colon Cancer
Colon cancer itself can be broken down into two categories: local and systemic. Local being contained to the actual affected area within your lower intestine (with a chance to spread) and systemic having a profound effect on your entire body.
Local Colon Cancer
Local colon cancer carries with it this list of symptoms:
- Noticeable changes in bowel habits
- Bright red or dark red blood in your stool
- The feeling as though you cannot empty your bowels completely
- Bloating, gas pains, cramping around the abdomen
Systemic Colon Cancer
Systemic colon cancer carries it this list of symptoms:
- Loss of appetite
- Mysterious weight loss
- Nausea and vomiting
- Extreme fatigue
Embarrassed? Keep this in Mind
Oftentimes patients might feel scared or embarrassed to get a colon cancer check due to patient privacy and sensitivity with the screened area, but keep in mind that the physicians performing these tasks have done colonoscopies and sigmoidoscopies more times than they can probably count and are highly skilled in executing those procedures. The consequences of delaying a procedure or not getting one at all can be deadly.
So if you’re over 50 get checked at least once a year. If you’re under 50, treat your body right by adhering to a reasonable diet, a safe consumption of alcohol, and attentiveness to your health that will carry over into old age. Be in good health!
November 16, 2010