So, some stuff you may not know:
Colon cancer is ridiculously treatable if caught early, yet has a high mortality rate because many people don't catch it until it is well advanced. My grandpa Murray died from colon cancer, mainly because by the time they caught it, the cancer had spread to his liver. On the other hand, my own cancer was discovered while in Stage one and was removed without the need for chemotherapy or radiation, mainly because it was found during a routine scope I had for my colitis.
The thing is, a lot of cases go undetected because folks can go a long time without showing any outward symptoms.
There are things you can keep an eye out for, however:
- blood in your stool. Not just red. Black or dark purplish stool can indicate blood as well. I learned that the hard way.
- weird, random changes in bowel movements. Getting all bunged up, or a constant case of the runs for no discernible reason.
- gas pains, stomach pains, bloating, pooping more (or less) than usual
- feeling like you gotta go, but not producing much.
- going, but not feeling empty
- sudden weight loss
- constant fatigue
These are things that might indicate a problem, but as mentioned, a lot of people don't experience any symptoms until the disease is well advanced. This is one of those proactive things, where you're going to want to get screened, especially if you meet certain criteria for risk:
- you're over 50
- you have a history of irritable bowel disease, such as Crohn's Disease or Colitis (oh, hai! *waves*)
- family history of colorectal cancer. If its a parent, You're gonna want to start screening 10 years before the age they were diagnosed. My lucky ladies will need to start screening in their early 20s. Thanks, genetics!
- family history of inherited uterine, ovarian or breast cancer.
- have been previously diagnosed with polyps or precancerous cells
Screening can consist of a couple tests. There's a fecal occult blood test, which sounds a lot more neat and spooky than it is, where you use a small stick to smear some of your poo on a card you get from your doctor who sends it to a lab to get checked for traces of blood.
The other test is a colonscopy, which consists of having a tiny camera on the end of a long flexible tube inserted into your bum and up into your colon with the help of a localized anesthetic, and it is buttloads of fun *snicker*. You'll be instructed to fast the day before and to take a purgative to clean out your system. My advice is as follows for the pre-scope cleanse:
- don't make plans for the day
- stay near a toilet
- shell out for the softest, squishiest toilet paper you can afford. It's worth it, trust me.
There's also the colonoscopy's little baby cousin, the flexible sigmoidoscopy, which is a smaller camera on a tube, about the size of that thing at the dentist they use to suck the spit out of your mouth. The downside is they probably won't put you out for it, so its a bit uncomfortable, but the upside is that since you're awake, you might have the option of watching a video of your own rectum. It's kind of gross and fascinating at the same time.
Fun story: A few days after one of my sigmoidoscopies, we had a sewer back-up and they sent robots into the sewer to find where the blockage was. Afterwards they gave us a copy of the video. Had we had the scope-video, it would have made a rather humorous split-screen.
Anyway, during the scope they'll check for weirdness and abnormalities such as polyps, and may take tissue samples. If biopsies are done, you may feel a bit sore and tender in the abdominal area for a day or two afterwards.
So this is some basic info on screening and prevention, because for something that is fairly easy to treat if caught early, a whole lot of people die unnecessarily. Food for thought.