It's the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. and younger people are at higher risk than ever before. Which are normal digestive issues and which are not?
KATY MAGAZINE I December 2017
By Christina Levings, MD Board Certified Gastroenterologist, Gastro Texas
COLON CANCER AND YOUNGER PEOPLE
Most people don't realize that colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of death from cancer in the United States after lung cancer. And studies show it may be on the rise for younger people. According to the American Cancer Society, there has been an increase of colorectal cancer in adults in their 20s and 30s, with the proportion of cases found in adults under 50 increasing to 11 percent in 2013, up from 6 percent in 1990. A recent study from the group that analyzed colon and rectal cancer incidence by birth year found that rates dropped steadily for people born prior to 1950, but have been increasing for every generation born since 1950.
10 SYMPTOMS YOU SHOULD NEVER IGNORE
Because colon cancer is such an insidious disease, it can grow silently without setting off any warning bells or whistles in your body. However, if you have any of these warning signs, schedule an appointment with a board certified Gastroenterologist.
Having a bowel movement less than three times a week isn't always related to colon cancer, but sometimes is. A tumor in the colon can make it very difficult for waste to get by, causing constipation.
2. Change in the Size or Appearance of the Stool
If your stool is now long, thin, stringy, dark, or black, this could be a warning sign.
3. Rectal Bleeding
Bleeding may be red or dark red (indicating dried blood). Bleeding is always a concern and should be checked out.
4. Blood in the Stool Appearing Dark or Black
Bleeding that happens higher up in the digestive tract may make stool appear black and tarry. This is also a concern and should be checked out.
5. Cramping in the Lower Stomach
Although stomach cramps, gas, bloating and abdominal pain can be attributed to other disorders, they can also be symptoms of colon cancer
6. False Urges to Use the Bathroom
Have a sensation to have a bowel movement when there is no need to have one is also a warning sign. A tumor that grows toward the end of the colon or in the rectum may cause a sense of fullness. This is because your body senses that there is something else present by the exit. Basically, the body treats the tumor as a stubborn piece of waste that it keeps trying to pass which is why you will sometimes get these false urges.
7. Unintentional Weight Loss
Unexplained weight loss can also be a symptom of cancer because tumors use up the body's energy thereby burning calories faster.
8. Gas & Bloating
A pattern of gas and bloating may be an indication that a tumor is growing in the colon and occasionally causing a blockage. Even if the tumor isn’t large enough to cause a complete bowel obstruction on its own, stool may periodically become caught on the tumor while it is passing by, causing a temporary or partial obstruction. While your bowel is blocked and air is trapped, you will be bloated. When the blockage resolves itself, all that air will need somewhere to go and you will be gassy.
9. Changes in Bowel Habits
Colon cancer may affect the large intestine's ability to perform some of the functions it had before, causing changes in bowel habits. This may be in the form or constipation or diarrhea. If something used to come easy and now is a struggle or has changed, you may want to get screened.
Blood loss through the rectum or stool is often the reason anemia could be present. Many times the blood loss occurs slowly and may not be visible to you.
BEWARE OF INCREASED RISK FACTORS
If you meet any of these criteria, you are at an increased risk for colon cancer.
- Are over age 50
- Eat a diet high in fat, processed foods and red meat
- Eat a diet low in fiber
- Have colon polyps or a family history of them
- Are African American
- Smoke or drink
- Have a sedentary lifestyle
- Have diabetes
- Have inflammatory bowel disease
- Have Lynch syndrome or other genetic syndromes
Important Note: For African Americans, screening is recommended at age 45.
OTHER MUST KNOWS ABOUT COLORECTAL CANCER
How is it Caused?
Colon cancer is a disease in which abnormal cells in the large intestine grow uncontrollably allowing them to invade locally or to other parts of the body. Most colon cancers start as a polyp which is a growth of tissue in the lining of the colon or rectum. Polyps are common, occurring in 30 to 50% of adults over age 50. Early detection and removal of polyps can mean prevention of colon cancer.
Should You Be Screened?
Colorectal cancer screening is recommended for the general population of men and women over the age of 50. I am often asked about the purpose of colorectal cancer screening and the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer for adults of any age. Although a comprehensive review of colorectal cancer and screening is beyond the scope of this article, I have highlighted a few points and encourage a discussion between you and your local gastroenterologist about when and what type of screening is right for you.
What is the Screening Like?
There are two broad categories of screening tests. Stool tests and structural exams. Stool tests were primarily designed with the goal of detecting colorectal cancer. Stool tests are less likely to detect polyps. Structural exams were designed to detect both colon polyps and colorectal cancers. These tests include colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, barium enema x-ray, and computed tomographic colonography also known as virtual colonoscopy. Colonoscopy is the most accurate way to screen for both colon polyps and colorectal cancer. Colonoscopy is performed under anesthesia so it should not be a painful exam
Will Insurance Cover My Screening
People with increased risks or symptoms may require colonoscopy prior to the age of 50. For those at average risk, colorectal cancer screening tests may likely be covered by your health insurance policy at virtually no cost to you.
Good News on the Horizon
The good news is the rates of colorectal cancer cases and deaths can be decreased through increased awareness of risk factors and implementation of screening guidelines.
Gastro Texas has two convenient locations to serve you. Ask for the Katy location when making your appointment.
KATY - 24732 Kingsland Blvd. Katy, TX 77450
MEMORIAL - 9190 Katy Freeway #102 Houston TX 77055
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Board certified in Gastroenterology, Dr. Levings has been practicing Gastroenterology since 2007, and in the Houston Area since 2011.
She is an active member of the medical staffs at Memorial Hermann Katy Hospital and Houston Methodist West Hospital. She is also a member of the American College of Gastroenterology, American Gastroenterological Association, Harris County Medical Society, and Texas Society of Gastroenterology and Endoscopy.
She received her medical degree from Tulane University School of Medicine. She also completed her fellowship in Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Tulane University School of Medicine and completed her Internal Medicine residency at Virginia Commonwealth University/Medical College of Virginia.
Christina Levings, MD
24732 Kingsland Blvd. Katy, TX 77450
9190 Katy Freeway #102 Houston TX 77055
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