DR. C’S JOURNAL: CAUSES & SIGNS OF COLON CANCER

Colon cancer is one of the most common of all cancers, and one of the deadliest. Occurring out of sight in your intestinal tract, it often becomes advanced before it is first detected.

Any bowel symptoms, such as persistent diarrhea, constipation, or abdominal discomfort might be a warning symptom and indicate a trip to the doctor. Blood in the stools, either bright red or black and tarry, must be diagnosed. Unexplained weakness, fatigue, or weight loss might indicate cancer that is too far advanced for simple treatment, and of course requires a trip to the doctor.

The most satisfactory way to pick up the cancer is by a screening test called a colonoscopy. A virtual colonoscopy by x-ray is also used, but it still requires the most uncomfortable part of the procedure, the preparation; The bowel must be washed out in order to properly visualize the cancer, or more likely pre-cancerous polyps or growths.

Due to the increase in frequency of colon cancer in young people, the age at which screening colonoscopy is medically advisable has been lowered from 50 to 45. A tendency to get colon cancer, or more commonly colon polyps, can run in families. These are best discovered by colonoscopy starting at an earlier age.

Increased age, or chronic inflammatory conditions such as ulcerative colitis can predispose to colon cancer.  If you eat a lot of junk food (low fiber diet), or a lot of fat, You may be more susceptible. If you have a sedentary lifestyle, diabetes, smoke  or drink alcohol, you may be more likely to develop this problem.

As usual, preventative measures are the best advice. Eating a lot of fruits, vegetables and whole grains might protect you. Exercising most days of the week and maintaining a healthy weight are good ideas. Limiting your alcohol and stopping smoking is always good advice.

I was a good boy and had colonoscopies every two years for a long time. I would have been happier had there been a blood test to pick up this dreaded disease. There are some simple tests like carcinoembryonic antigen, and a stool test for occult(hidden) blood, but these are not very accurate.

For treatment of colorectal cancer and other more complete information, please check with the following mayo clinic article.

—Dr. C.

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