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Doctors paying more attention to colon cancer screening

Published:Tuesday | March 17, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Dr Mike Mills

The medical community in Jamaica is now paying greater attention to colon cancer, an emergent cancer afflicting persons, and the clearest sign of something ominous is blood in the stool.

Speaking at a Gleaner Editors' Forum last week, medical professionals and representatives of the Jamaica Cancer Society discussed the issue with reporters and editors.

Gastroenterologist Dr Mike Mills said individuals at risk, based on international guidelines, are between the age of 40 and 50 years, but everyone was at risk, as everyone had a colon.

However, the risk for colon cancer increases significantly at age 60 years, and advocacy for screening has gathered momentum among the medical fraternity.

"Colon cancer is a relatively new cancer. We are accustomed to hearing about breast cancer, cervical cancer, but colon cancer screening is something which people didn't really think about even in the medical community. A lot of doctors would have known about the possibility of doing screening, but its not something they readily advocated for their patients," explained Mills.

Blood in the stool

That has now changed.

"The easiest way to screen for colon cancer is to look for blood in the stool. You can send a stool sample to the lab, and obviously if you are seeing blood in the stool, then it should be examined. But we are concerned with finding persons who do not have cancer yet. And for colon cancer, we are interested in finding the polyp, the pre-cancer stage," explained Mills.

The doctor described polyp as a little warty growth that can become cancerous the longer it's there.

However, he said it was easily detectable "if you go looking for it, but for a person to have a polyp and know that it's there, it has to be very big".

He said it takes about six to 10 years from start to finish if it develops into cancer, and that is why early detection as so important.

"So colon cancer screening is not designed to find the cancer itself but to find the polyp, take it out, and prevent cancer. If there is a family history of colon cancer, you will start screening 10 years earlier," he said.

Other risk factors include genetics, environmental exposure, exposure to radiation, drinking, and smoking. Genes can also be passed on from mother to child, as in the case of breast cancer, he stated.