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Colorectal cancer: an essential screening

Watching out for colon cancer used to be a problem for older people, with recommendations for screenings starting at 50. But with increased colon cancer instances in younger people, the ACS has lowered the recommended age to 45.

Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the country. The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that nearly 105,000 new colon cancer cases will be diagnosed this year.

Colorectal cancer can be insidious

“Colon and rectum cancers are especially dangerous because they can slowly develop over several years with subtle symptoms. Most begin as a polyp,” said Dr. Shylendra Sreenivasappa, medical oncologist at OSF HealthCare Saint Anthony Medical Center. “That’s why it’s important to get tested. Especially if there’s an immediate family history of colon and rectal cancers or even polyps, you should begin screening at least 10 years earlier than normal.”

Symptoms you should not ignore:

  • Anemia
  • Blood in the stool or any change to stool size
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Left side abdominal pain

Causes of colorectal cancers

Opinions vary on the reasons why people are being diagnosed at a younger age. Some epidemiologists believe that diet, too much red meat and obesity are to blame.

“While our digestive systems play a large part in our overall health, the phrase ‘you are what you eat’ was coined for a reason. Genetics seems to be the biggest indicator,” Dr. Sreenivasappa said. “There are many gene abnormalities that get passed along from generation to generation that can trigger colon cancer.”

Dr. Sreenivasappa urges you to be an active participant in your health, paying attention to any changes in your bowel movements, limiting red meat, increasing daily servings of fruits and veggies and staying at a healthy weight. However, he still warns that while managing your digestive health can profoundly affect your overall health, it is still essential to be screened for colorectal cancer.

Getting tested

The gold standard in colorectal cancer screening is a colonoscopy. Colonoscopies allow physicians to view the entire colon and both detect and remove polyps, small clumps of cells that can develop into cancer, during the same procedure.

There are several other non-invasive tests and stool tests available by prescription for lower-risk patients. These tests can be done outside of a physician’s office. They detect issues like blood in the stool or DNA that may indicate cancer.

What the trend shows us

“If you see a change in bowel movements or experience any other symptoms, talk to your doctor. I can’t stress this enough. Talk to your doctor and get tested,” Dr. Sreenivasappa said. “No matter what the recommended method is for you, getting screened could be the difference between catching a colorectal issue early or waiting until it’s too late.”

To learn more about OSF Medical Group’s gastroenterology team and screenings available, click here.

About Author: David Pruitt

David Pruitt is a writer for the Marketing & Communications division of OSF HealthCare. He has a bachelor’s of journalism from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and worked as a reporter before joining OSF HealthCare in 2014.

An avid golfer and fisherman, David was born and raised Alton, Illinois, which is where he currently resides with his son, James.

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Categories: Cancer, Preventive Health