We all seem to shy away when it comes to talking about colorectal cancer screening. Something about having our anus under the microscope makes us feel uncomfortable, but some quick and easy steps can help you take a proactive approach to early cancer detection.
The Canadian Cancer Society recommends that everyone over the age of 50 have a fecal immunochemical test (FIT) every 2 years.
This is a simple and easy test that can be done at home once it has been prescribed by your physician. You receive the small container which contains a stick to collect the stool, and has a liquid in it that allows lab technicians to detect small traces of blood that may be hidden in your fecal matter. Once you perform the test, you bring it back to your Doctor’s office or the laboratory that gave it to you.
If the results are negative, you just have to continue to repeat the test every 2 years. If the test is positive, your family physician should refer you for a colonoscopy in order to visualize where the traces of blood are coming from.
Yes, we understand having a colonoscopy can be daunting;
however if the blood traces come from a small polyp it can easily be removed during the colonoscopy. If a small tumor is detected surgery can be arranged. Stage I colon cancer has 75% survival rate versus 6% survival rate for a stage IV tumor. When having a colonoscopy you can ask to be put under conscious sedation if you are anxious or nervous. Wait times to get a colonoscopy can be long through the public system, so inform yourself of private places that offer colonoscopies in your area, as most private insurance cover up to 80% of the cost.
Unfortunately, not all tests are 100 % accurate, so if you do have a FIT test that is negative but are experiencing the following symptoms please insist that you re-consult your doctor:
- narrowing of stools,
- black tar like stools (melena),
- visible red blood in your stools,
- mucus in your stool,
- persistent diarrhea,
- persistent constipation,
- rectal bleeding between bowel movements,
- feeling like you have not completely emptied your bowel,
- pain, cramps, bloating fullness,
- a lump that can be felt in the abdomen,
- nausea, vomiting, fatigue and weight loss
Colorectal cancer is the 3rd most commonly diagnosed cancer in Canada.
If we all take steps toward screening and early detection we can increase survival rates. Consider the following:
- Being overweight increases your risk for cancer, so staying at a healthy body weight plays an important role in preventing cancer.
- A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and fiber, and low in sugar and fats helps maintain a healthy body weight and healthy bowel function.
- Regular physical activity helps improve bowel motility, increase circulation, and helps maintain a healthy weight.
- Drinking 3.5 alcoholic drinks per day can increase your risk of colorectal cancer by 3.5%. It is ok to enjoy a drink occasionally, but remember that everything is best in moderation.
- Smoking is related to 30% of all cancer deaths in Canada. Smoking cessation overall improves your overall health, so talk to your nurse or doctor about smoking cessation programs today.
These small steps will help you take a proactive approach in preventing colorectal cancer… so please don’t shy away from your bum!
Julie Boyer, RN
(Canadian Cancer Society, 2014)