Some cancers are more difficult for people to talk about, due to the sensitive nature of their location and worries about embarrassment. Colorectal cancer, sometimes simply called colon cancer, is one of them.
Since March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, let’s talk about it and dispel the embarrassment.
Colorectal cancer occurs in the colon, also called the large intestine or large bowel, or the rectum, the passageway linking the colon to the anus. Polyps, or abnormal growths, sometimes develop in the colon or rectum and may eventually become cancerous.
Signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer include bloody stool; stomach pain, aches or cramps that don’t go away; and unexplained weight loss. Talk with your doctor or healthcare provider if you are having any of these symptoms, since they may be caused by something other than cancer. Your doctor may order diagnostic tests to discover the cause of your symptoms.
People with polyps or undiagnosed cancer may not always have symptoms, especially at first, which makes regular screening especially important. Several options are available, and each has its pros and cons:
- STOOL TESTS: There are three kinds of tests, which check your stool for blood and test it for cancerous cells.
- FLEXIBLE SIGMOIDOSCOPY: The doctor inserts a short, thin, flexible, lighted tube into your rectum to look for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and lower third of the colon.
- COLONOSCOPY: This test is nearly identical to flexible sigmoidoscopy, with the difference being that the doctor checks the rectum and the entire colon. Most polyps and some cancers can be removed during a colonoscopy. It can also be used as a follow-up test for any of the other screening tests.
- CT COLONOGRAPHY: Also called virtual colonoscopy, it uses X-rays and computers to produce images of the entire colon. The images are displayed on a computer screen for the doctor to analyze.
Screening is recommended for anyone ages 50 to 75, since about 90 percent of new colorectal cancer cases are found in people ages 50 and older. It’s also recommended for people younger than 50 if they or a close relative have had colorectal polyps or cancer, if they have an inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, or if they have a genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome).
Talk with your doctor to determine whether you need screening, what kind of screening is right for you and how often you should be screened. Your doctor will explain the procedure, any preparations you may need to make in advance of the test and potential risks.
|Colon cancer statistics from the Healthy Louisiana dashboard show how many Louisianans have received colon cancer screening, diagnosis and polyps removed as a result of the 2016 Louisiana Medicaid expansion.|
Tackling cancer in Louisiana
In Louisiana, colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death from 2010 to 2014. For those years, Louisiana also had the third highest incidence and death rates in the United States.
To address this and other cancers, Gov. John Bel Edwards and Louisiana Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee launched the statewide Taking Aim at Cancer in Louisiana (TACL) initiative in May 2018. This collaborative effort brings together leaders from healthcare, business, government, community, advocacy, philanthropy and other sectors, all with one common goal: improving cancer outcomes in our state.
To improve cancer outcomes, TACL seeks to improve early detection, improve patient care and treatment, and ultimately improve patient outcomes. Statewide partners, including doctors who treat cancer patients, also are called upon through TACL to help coordinate policies, programs and practices related to cancer diagnoses and treatments.
TACL was established as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation in February, helping us tackle cancer in Louisiana one step at a time.