Thursday, March 14, 2013

Get Screened! March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

Discussing colon and digestive health with a doctor may be uncomfortable, but it’s important. Colorectal cancer is the third most diagnosed cancer in the United States. Early detection can lead to better outcomes, and in some cases, polyps may be detected and removed before they even become cancerous.

Depending of the location of the cancer, symptoms may vary. The most common symptoms include:
  • Belly pain
  • Blood in stool/dark stools
  • Changes in bowel habits
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss
African Americans are at the highest risk of developing colorectal cancer. Other risk factors include being over age 50 and having a family history of colorectal cancer. Individuals who have had colorectal, ovarian or endometrial cancer before or have had colon polyps removed are also at a higher risk. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that, in general, all individuals should receive colorectal cancer screenings at regular intervals beginning at age 50. Several different types of screening procedures are available, depending on each patient’s circumstances.

Exams include:
  • Fecal occult blood tests examine a patient’s stool for hidden blood. This test is noninvasive and is recommended annually for men and women over the age of 50, or those with a history of cancer.
  • Colonoscopy examines the entire colon using a long, thin, flexible tube with a tiny camera and light at the end. Men and women over 50 and those with a history of cancer should have one every 10 years. Polyps and abnormal tissue can be removed and biopsied during the procedure.
  • Sigmoidoscopy allows physicians to look at the interior walls of the rectum and lower colon using a flexible, lighted tube. Men and women over the age of 50 or those with a cancer history should have this test every five years. Polyps and abnormal tissues can also be removed and biopsied during a sigmoidoscopy.
  • Virtual colonoscopy produces images of the colon and rectum using special X-ray equipment and shows polyps and abnormalities.
  • Digital rectal exams may be performed at annual physical examinations. The physician inserts a lubricated, gloved finger inserted into the rectum to examine for abnormalities.

Patients can work with their gastroenterologists to determine which procedures are best for their needs based on their own family history of cancer, comfort level and budget.

Have questions about colon and digestive health? Visit and “Ask an Expert.” Or, browse to for additional information about GBMC’s services.

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