Colon cancer is preventable. Check these signs and symptoms to stay healthy.
Last year, more Arizonans died from colon cancer than car crashes.
No butts about it, the numbers are staggering. Colon cancer is the number two cancer killer in this country—only second to lung cancer.
Here’s the good news: colon cancer is unique because it is one of the few cancers you can do something about. In fact, it’s almost entirely preventable with timely screening.
The key here is timing; knowing your family’s health history and knowing your body. National guidelines state all people should be screened by age 50, and many who are high risk—including those with a family history of cancer or polyps, certain genetic conditions and ethnicities like African Americans—should be checked earlier. Some common symptoms such as:
A change in bowel habits – Including diarrhea, constipation, a change in the consistency of your stool or finding your stools are narrower than usual
Persistent abdominal discomfort – Such as cramps, gas, or pain and/or feeling full, bloated or that your bowel does not empty completely
Rectal bleeding – Finding blood (either bright red or very dark) in your stool
Weakness or fatigue – Can also accompany losing weight for no known reason, nausea or vomiting
If you’re having symptoms, talk to your doctor immediately. Colon cancer is up to 90 percent beatable when found early. Check out our What’s My Risk? Quiz and calculate when to start talking to your doctor about getting screened.
Unfortunately, many people avoid being screened because of apprehensions about colonoscopies. But, these days, a colonoscopy isn’t your only option. Cologuard is a new, non-invasive colon cancer screening method that looks for certain DNA mutations. There are also other at-home screening tests for Arizonans to choose and even virtual colonoscopies. Ask your doctor about finding the screening test that is right for you.
What’s a polyp and are they all cancerous?
Colon polyps are growths that may turn into colon cancer over time. While not every colon polyp turns to cancer, it is difficult to know which ones will. Almost every colon cancer begins as a small non-cancerous polyp. The good news is that during a colonoscopy, polyps can be identified and removed, preventing a possible colon cancer diagnosis.
It’s important to know, not all polyps are created equal. There are four types of polyps that commonly occur within the colon:
Inflammatory – Inflammatory polyps are most often found in patients with ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. Often called “pseudopolyps” (false polyps), they are not true polyps, but just a reaction to chronic inflammation of the colon wall. They are not the type that turns to cancer.
Tubular adenoma or adenomatous polyps – These are the most common type of polyp and are the ones referred to most often when a doctor speaks of colon or rectal polyps; about 70 percent of polyps removed are of this type.
Villous adenoma or tubulovillous adenomas – Villous and tubulovillous adenomas polyps account for about 15 percent of the polyps that are removed. These are the most serious type of polyps with a very high cancer risk as they grow larger.
And while we can all agree colonoscopy prep can be a pain in the you-know-what, it’s not usually as bad as people make it out to be. Colon cancer is no laughing matter, but humor is one of the easiest ways we’ve found to make the test (and the prep) a bit more palatable. Knowing tips and tricks from people who have ‘been there, done that’ such as using diaper rash ointment and avoiding meat a few days prior will make the process a little easier to bear.
You probably don’t have an iPhone in your colon, but you may have something more serious. That’s why it’s so important to get checked on time. And if you’re nervous about talking to your doctor, check out our Questions to Ask Your Doctor Before Your Colonoscopy and our Top Colonoscopy Prep Tips.
Lastly, in the words of one of our survivors and community members, “stay close to the bathroom. Laugh. Move fast. Be thankful.”
Kevin Bergersen is a native Arizona resident and serves locally as the Programs Assistant Manager in charge of webinars, education programs and conferences for the Colon Cancer Alliance. He is a caregiver family member for a 12 year stage IIIC colon cancer survivor and is passionate in his efforts to education Arizonans on the importance of screening. His passion is making sure no-one ever has to go through the scourge of colorectal cancer.