It is National Colon Cancer Awareness month

March is Na­tion­al Colon Can­cer Aware­ness month.

Colon can­cer af­fects both men and wo­men at the same rates. It is the third-most com­mon can­cer in the United States, but the second-lead­ing cause of can­cer deaths. Close to 150,000 new cases of colon can­cer will be dia­gnosed this year alone. And more than 50,000 people will die from this dis­ease in 2014.

The colon is a part of your di­gest­ive sys­tem. It in­cludes the loop of large bowel or large in­test­ine in your body that is about five to six feet long. Its job is to ab­sorb the wa­ter and nu­tri­ents from the foods you con­sume throughout the course of the day. Whatever is not ab­sorbed back in­to your body is ex­pelled as stool or fe­ces.

Can­cer that be­gins in the colon is called colon can­cer. Most tu­mors in the colon be­gin when nor­mal tis­sue in the colon wall forms a polyp or growth. Some of these growths in time can be­come can­cer­ous. This is why colon can­cer screen­ing is so im­port­ant. Every per­son over the age of 50 should get screened. Your risk of get­ting colon can­cer greatly in­creases after your 50th birth­day. Your doc­tor may re­com­mend you have colon can­cer screen­ing soon­er if you or a fam­ily mem­ber have a his­tory of colon can­cer or polyps. You may also be re­com­men­ded for an early screen­ing if you have a his­tory of in­flam­mat­ory bowel dis­eases, such as ul­cer­at­ive colit­is or Crohn’s dis­ease. Colon can­cer screen­ing in­cludes a colono­scopy and oth­er tests for blood in the stool. 

Most people can pre­vent colon can­cer by un­der­go­ing screen­ing to de­tect and re­move polyps from the colon be­fore they be­come can­cer­ous. A colono­scopy al­lows your doc­tor not only to look for the polyps dur­ing the ex­am­in­a­tion, but also to re­move them right there on the spot. Re­mov­ing these polyps is the most ef­fect­ive way to pre­vent the de­vel­op­ment of colon can­cer. The dis­ease can usu­ally be cured if caught early enough. Screen­ing is key.

Colon can­cer may present with some vague signs and symp­toms. You may no­tice a change in your bowel habits with either diarrhea or con­stip­a­tion. You may see that your stool has blood in it or is darkly colored. You may feel tired or weak, or ex­per­i­ence weight loss for no known reas­on. You may feel that your bowels do not empty com­pletely or you may have fre­quent gas pains or bloat­ing. These are just some of the signs and symp­toms. One per­son may have no symp­toms at all, while an­oth­er per­son may have mul­tiple symp­toms present.

Many life­style choices place you at a high­er risk of de­vel­op­ing colon can­cer. For in­stance, if you are a smoker or drink al­co­hol in ex­cess, you in­crease your chances of get­ting colon can­cer. The same ap­plies if you are obese. It has been shown that a diet high in fat, red meats and pro­cessed meats can have the same ef­fect.

Healthy life­style habits can re­duce your risk of colon can­cer. The Amer­ic­an Can­cer So­ci­ety re­com­mends eat­ing at least five servings of fruits and ve­get­ables each day. Lim­it your al­co­hol con­sump­tion and eat­ing of an­im­al and dairy fats. Start a reg­u­lar ex­er­cise pro­gram. Talk to your doc­tor about ways to help you to quit smoking.

Most colon can­cers are pre­vent­able with reg­u­lar screen­ing. Talk to your doc­tor now.

Many in­sur­ance plans and Medi­care help pay for colon can­cer screen­ing. Check with your plan to find out which tests are covered for you. To find out about Medi­care cov­er­age, call 1-800-MEDI­CARE (1-800-633-4227). The Cen­ter for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion (CDC) has a Colorectal Can­cer Con­trol Pro­gram that provides ac­cess to colon can­cer screen­ing to low-in­come, un­der­insured, or un­in­sured men and wo­men aged 50–64 years in Pennsylvania. You may call 717-783-1457 for more in­form­a­tion. ••

Ad­ina Dees, M.D., prac­tices fam­ily medi­cine with Epic Phys­i­cian Group at 8019 Frank­ford Ave. in Holmes­burg.

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