Havre, Montana – In February 2000, President Clinton officially dedicated March as National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Across the world, Cancer of the colon and rectum is the third leading cause of cancer in males and the fourth leading cause in females. According to the Colon Cancer Alliance, every year about 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and more than 50,000 people die from it. Having an awareness month serves to bring this disease, its symptoms, its causes, and its treatment to the forefront of people’s minds. And more importantly, a screening test that could possibly save people’s lives.
Colorectal cancer is a malignant tumor arising from the inner wall of the large intestine. Most colorectal cancers develop from polyps. Removal of these polyps can prevent the cancer. Unfortunately colon polyps and early cancer can have no symptoms; therefore regular screenings are important. Since the mid-1980s, the colon cancer death rate has been dropping due in part to increased awareness and screening. By finding more polyps and cancer in the earlier stages through the use of colonoscopies, it is easier to treat.
A colonoscopy is a test that allows doctors to look at the inner lining of your large intestine. A thin, flexible tube called a colonoscope is used along with a small video camera to look at the whole colon and the rectum. This is performed while the patient is sedated.
Dr. Damian Ymzon, a General Surgeon at Northern Montana Health Care says, “We recommend that people start colon cancer screenings at age 50. If there is a family history of colon cancer or polyps, we may opt to start screenings earlier. A fecal occult blood test or a fecal immunochemical test can be performed every year. It is important that people know the early symptoms also.”
If symptoms are present they may include: A change in bowel habits; a feeling that your bowel does not empty completely, rectal bleeding, or finding blood in your stool; persistent abdominal discomfort; losing weight with no apparent reason; weakness or fatigue; nausea or unexplained vomiting.
“These symptoms can also be associated with many other health conditions. Only your doctor can determine why you’re having these symptoms. Usually, early cancer does not cause pain. It is important not to wait to feel pain before seeing a doctor.” adds Dr. Ymzon. “The risk of getting colorectal cancer increases with age. More than 90% of cases occur in people who are 50 years old or older. Colorectal cancer screening saves lives.”