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Deborah James, the cancer activist who recently died of colon cancer at the age of 40, had asked everyone to have their stools checked as part of her campaign to raise awareness of the disease.
In this topic, we answer the questions that many ask about one of the most common types of cancer.
There are 3 main things to look for:
• blood in your stool for no apparent reason, and it may be bright red or dark red
A change in the way you defecate, such as going to the toilet more than once or your stools becoming more loose or hard
• Feeling pain or swelling in the lower abdomen when your abdomen feels full
There may also be other symptoms, such as:
• Weight loss
• You feel that you have not emptied your bowels properly after a bowel movement
• You feel more tired or dizzy than usual
Having these symptoms does not necessarily mean that you have colon cancer, but the advice is to go to the doctor if you notice that these symptoms persist for 3 weeks or more and if things are not well.
This means that these symptoms must be checked quickly, as the earlier cancers are diagnosed, the easier it is to treat.
Sometimes, colon cancer can stop the passage of stool and this can cause a blockage, resulting in severe abdominal pain, constipation and illness, and you will need to go to the doctor or go to the nearest emergency hospital immediately in these circumstances.
How do I check my stool?
Take a good look at your stool when you go to the toilet and don’t be shy about talking about it.
You should look for blood in your stools as well as bleeding from below.
Bright red blood may come from swollen blood vessels (hemorrhoids), but it may also be due to colon cancer.
Dark red or black blood in your stools may come from your intestines or stomach, and may also be worrisome.
You may also notice a change in your bowel habit, such as softer stools or more bowel movements than usual, or you may feel that you are not emptying your bowels properly.
The Colon Cancer Program UK recommends writing down your symptoms before you go to your doctor so you don’t forget anything during the visit.
Doctors are used to seeing a lot of people with a variety of bowel problems so tell them about any changes or bleeding so they can figure out the cause.
What causes colon cancer?
No one knows exactly what causes this, but there are a few things that can increase the likelihood of it happening:
• The older you get, the more likely you are to get cancer, including colon cancer. Most cases are in adults over the age of fifty
• Rely on a diet that contains a lot of red meat and processed meat such as sausage, bacon and salami
• Cigarette smoking can increase the risk of many types of cancer
• Drinking a lot of alcohol
• being overweight or obese
• Having a history of polyps in your intestines that can turn into malignant tumors
Is it a genetic disease?
In most cases, colon cancer is not hereditary, but you should tell your doctor if you have any relatives diagnosed with this disease before the age of 50.
Some genetic factors, such as Lynch syndrome, make owners more likely to develop colon cancer but the disease can also be prevented if doctors learn about the condition.
How do you reduce your risk of contracting this disease?
Scientists say that more than half of all colon cancer cases could be avoided if people followed a healthy lifestyle.
This means getting more exercise, eating more fiber and less fat, and drinking about 6 to 8 glasses of water per day.
But this also means going to your doctor with any worrisome symptoms, and in Britain in particular you can take advantage of the cancer screening offer as soon as it is presented by the National Health Authority.
Can I take the test?
The test, run by Britain’s National Health Service, aims to detect colon cancer at an early stage. This process involves a home test kit that looks for hidden blood in your stool and is sent to you so you can sample and send it back.
But this test is not available to everyone in Britain, it is only for the age groups who are most likely to benefit from it.
The examination is carried out throughout Britain.
• In England, the age at which you become eligible for screening is gradually being reduced from over 60 to 50.
• In Scotland, the examination starts from the age of 50 years.
• In Wales, this test is for people between the ages of 58 and 74.
• In Northern Ireland, it is intended for people over the age of 60.
The test is not 100 percent accurate and can lead to unnecessary harm and treatment when healthy people are diagnosed as sick.
So if you belong to a younger age group and are experiencing symptoms, you should be aware of the symptoms and visit your doctor if you are concerned and do not buy a self-test kit because the results can be confusing.
How is colon cancer diagnosed?
In Britain, once your home test kit is sent back, you will be told that you are free of this disease or your local hospital will contact you for further testing.
This could be through a colonoscopy, a procedure that uses a camera inside a long tube to look inside the entire intestine, or a flexible sigmoidoscopy that examines a portion of it.
It is reported that more than 90 percent of people diagnosed with early-stage colon cancer have been alive for 5 years or more, compared to 44 percent when diagnosed in the last stage.
In Britain, chances of survival have more than doubled in the past 40 years, with more than half of patients now surviving 10 years or more, compared to one in five in the 1970s.
Like many types of cancer, people between the ages of 15 and 40 have the highest survival rates, because cancer is more common and fatal in older adults.
What treatments are available?
Colon cancer is curable, especially if diagnosed early. Treatments are becoming more advanced, and advances in genetic testing mean that care can be tailored to the way each body deals with cancer.
This approach still needs improvement, but it holds promise for additional years of life for cancer sufferers.
At what stage your cancer is found, you’ll be told what treatments are available.
This may be through surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy, depending on the type of cancer the individual has.
What are the different stages of cancer?
• Stage I cancers, which are small but have not spread
Stage II cancers are larger, but have not yet spread
• Cancers of the third stage, which have now spread to some surrounding tissues such as the lymph nodes
• Cancers of the fourth stage, which have spread to another part of the body, resulting in a secondary tumor