Colorectal (colon) cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in the nation. In Kentucky, colorectal cancer is the second most common cancer, behind lung cancer in both men and women.
Each year, more than 2,500 Kentuckians are diagnosed with colorectal cancer and more than 900 die from this disease. According to Kentucky Cancer Registry data, many of these cases are invasive, late-stage cancers. It is suggested that at least 60 percent of colorectal cancer deaths could be prevented by following the screening guidelines.
Colorectal cancer usually starts as a polyp (a growth) that is not yet cancer but if left undetected has the potential to become cancerous. Screening tests can find polyps and remove them before they turn into cancer. Also, screening tests can help find colorectal cancer early, which increases the chance of being cured.
Precancerous polyps and early-stage colorectal cancer do not always cause symptoms.
That is why screening is so important. If you wait until you have symptoms, it's possible that the cancer could be an advanced stage, making it more difficult to treat. If found early, the cancer could be removed surgically, and you may not need chemotherapy.
A colonoscopy is the most common test for finding polyps. During the colonoscopy, a physician uses a lighted tube to look inside the entire colon. If the physician finds a polyp or anything suspicious, it can be removed and tested for cancer.
Patients are usually given a mild sedative and sleep through the procedure.
If you are 50 or older it is recommended that you be screened for colorectal cancer. It is important to talk to your doctor about getting screened for colorectal cancer and the type of screening test that is appropriate for you. You may need to be screened at an earlier age if a family member has had colorectal cancer or if you have symptoms. Some common symptoms of colorectal cancer is blood in your stool, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, change in bowel habits (constipation or diarrhea), and persistent abdominal discomfort (fullness, bloating or cramps).
The American Cancer Society estimates that 9 out of 10 colorectal cancers could be prevented or cured by screening or regular checkups. Prevention and early detection is the key to stopping this deadly cancer. Colorectal cancer screening can save your life.
Holly Weyl, is an oncology nurse navigator specializing in colorectal cancer at Central Baptist Hospital.