Colon cancer is responsible for roughly 50,000 deaths in America every year, making it the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the country, and the third most common cancer in men and women in the U.S. 1 Tragically, many of these deaths would be preventable with early detection. However, colorectal cancer often presents without symptoms, and when symptoms do appear, patients may be reluctant or too embarrassed to talk about them.
Regular screenings can be effective in finding evidence of cancer early, but again, due to the embarrassment or perceived discomfort, people are loath to schedule and commit to colonoscopies. This reluctance leads to deaths that could have been avoided, making the ability to be open about colorectal screenings and removing the stigma surrounding the procedures a critical priority.
Colon cancer is very slow-developing, taking several years for the abnormalities to fully form. With regular check-ups, the polyps or lesions can be dealt with early, removing the source of the cancer. And yet, one in three adults has not been tested as recommended between ages 50 and 75, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Current guidelines are for one or some combinations of the following 2:
- A fecal occult blood test (FOBT) done at home every year. This is a simple test performed in-home that detects the presence of blood in the stool, one of the earliest warning signs for colorectal problems.
- A flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years, combined with fecal occult blood tests every three years. A sigmoidoscopy is a test similar to a colonoscopy, where a camera is used to examine the lower part of the colon.
- A colonoscopy every ten years. A colonoscopy is a procedure that allows doctors to view both the lower and upper parts of the colon.
Regular screenings are the best and most effective way of detecting precancerous colon abnormalities, allowing them to be dealt with before cancer has a chance to form. It is recommended to begin regular screenings at age 50, or perhaps earlier if there is a family history of cancers, most particularly colon cancer in the immediate family. A home fecal blood test, owing to its ease of use and privacy, is a very convenient and easily followed method. Rates of use in California were more than twice as high as other states, 2 making them a favorite of proctologists in Los Angeles.
Oftentimes, when symptoms begin to show, it is too late to avoid cancer altogether. Compounding this issue is people may feel embarrassment or shame when talking about their stool or lower digestive tract, and simply live with symptoms for months and months, making it that much more of a problem when they finally do go to a doctor. It is important to recognize the symptoms and be able to engage with a medical professional openly and honestly, as your very life may depend upon it.
- Bleeding from the rectum, or the presence of blood in stool
- Changes in frequency, appearance, or amount of stool, without a corresponding change in diet
- Chronic unexplained abdominal pain