Doctor's Appointment | Colon cancer cuts across gender lines
Cancers continue to be of great concern in populations such as Jamaica where colon cancer, for example, is the third most common cause of deaths. It cuts across gender lines, affecting both men and women.
For this week's appointment, consultant gastroenterologist at Phoenix Gastroenterology and Health Services, Dr. Mike Mills, takes us through the daunting world of cancer in which 13-18 cases per 100,000 are recorded annually in the Caribbean. While it is not the highest rate worldwide, it is alarming for such a small region.
Cancers are understood as abnormal reproduction cells that eventually become aggressive and begin to spread to the surrounding tissues and even to other parts of the body. When this type of activity happens in the colon or large intestines, colon or bowel cancer may develop. As Dr Mills noted, this type of cancer that compromise the ordinary health of the colon is not much different from cancers elsewhere in the body. The site of the origin is what gives it the name.
Cancers, for the most part, are the end result of increased exposure to certain risk factors. To develop cancer in the colon, one or a combination of the following may be involved:
- Age risk for diagnosis increases as you get older.
- Diets that are low in fibre but high in fat.
- Excess alcohol intake.
- Obesity, diabetes and other pre-existing medical conditions including inflammation of the colon or rectum (ulcerative colitis), polyps (benign growths).
- Sedentary lifestyle and the lack of exercise.
- Family history of colon cancer, especially if diagnosis occurs under age 50.
- Radiation from previous cancer treatment.
WHEN TO SEE A DOCTOR?
Once cancer begins to take hold in the colon, the person may begin to experience a number of signs and symptoms. These are expansive but common examples are:
- Noticeable change in your bowel habits, including bouts of diarrhoea or constipation, or a change in the consistency of the stool, lasting longer than four weeks.
- Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool.
- Abdominal discomfort in the form of cramps, gas or pain.
- Constant feeling that your bowel doesn't empty completely.
- Weakness or fatigue.
- Unexplained weight loss.
It is best practice to visit a doctor once blood is seen in the stool or prolonged bowel changes are experienced, at minimum.
Additionally, Dr Mills advises that screening becomes mandatory once persons are between the ages of 45 and 50 years. However, it is possible for the colon to become cancerous in younger individuals, though uncommon.
Upon suspicion, colonoscopies, microscopic examination of faeces, and body CT scan are just a few options of tests that can be carried out to help a doctor make a diagnosis. The takeaway message is that outside of the influence of genetics, it is possible to prevent the development of cancers by paying attention to lifestyle choices and being proactive in securing regular check-ups. Preventing cancers is easier than fighting them.
- Join us for your next 'Doctor's Appointment' on Sunday on TVJ at 5:30 pm.