Although often known under one name, colorectal cancer, this disease is usually a combination of colon cancer and rectal cancer. In the early stages, most people don’t even know they have it. Symptoms, if any can be very minor or hard to detect.
The average person may simply feel changes are caused by temporary constipation, indigestion or other conditions that will disappear in time. Reluctance to see a doctor may also be caused by the fear that tests will be painful or frightening. There are so many advances and new treatments for colorectal cancer, however, that there is no reason to worry unduly.
In fact, early detection as well as knowledge about the basics of this disease can go a long way in overcoming fears. Methods of detecting this cancer are not uncomfortable for most people, especially with the new sedatives and anesthetics available. In fact, the average person doesn’t remember the test at all!
Since this cancer is the number two killer of Americans, it is vitally important to have routine tests for the disease. Although regular screenings are the best way to detect this disease in its early stages, there are also symptoms which can serve as an alert.
Some of the early warning signs of colorectal cancer include changes in bowel movements. Some people may have constipation which doesn’t go away even with a change in diet. Others may have the opposite effect, with diarrhea. There may also be bleeding around the rectal area. Sometimes the stools may become very thin, often described as looking like pencils. Some people have none of these symptoms but may lose weight, have a change in appetite or feel extremely tired all the time.
Pain in the rectal area or abdominal discomfort are also signs that it may be time to get additional help and advice. Of course, all of these symptoms could be signs of minor conditions so there is no reason to assume the worst. However, tests for early detection may be warranted. A family history of this cancer is also a risk factor. Other risk factors include a high fat diet and lack of fiber.
Those who are obese as well as individuals who don’t get regular exercise may also be at higher risk. There are many promising new treatments for colorectal cancer. Among the more intriguing are special blood tests which determine if people carry genetic risk factors for the cancer. Since these blood tests are so new, they haven’t yet overtaken colonoscopies (special x-rays of the colon) as the mainline detection method for these cancers. However, they have found genes linked to a higher risk of getting the disease and blood tests to screen for these genes.
In the future, a simple blood test may be enough to detect colon cancer. Other promising methods of detecting or preventing colorectal cancer include the regular use of aspirin and special diets which lower the risk of getting this disease. For now, however, there are tests to detect blood in the stool as well as colonoscopies. After a day of preparing for a colonoscopy, the test itself is usually easy, with a mild sedative administered to prevent discomfort. Afterwards, patients are driven home and are often back at work within a day (some intrepid patients even go back to work the same day).
Recent research indicates that colonoscopies administered early in the day have better detection rates than those given later. So try to schedule that colonoscopy for early in the day.