Know the Signs of Colon Cancer

Sherri Brown, LaGrange Daily News, Ga.

Posted June 17, 2012

Signs and symptoms of colo-rectal cancer

Colo-rectal cancer may cause one or more of the symptoms below. If you have any of the following you should see your doctor:

--A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation or narrowing of the stool, that lasts for more than a few days.

--A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by doing so.

--Rectal bleeding, dark stools or blood in the stool (often, though, the stool will look normal).

--Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain.

--Weakness and fatigue.

--Unintended weight loss.

Most of these symptoms are more often caused by conditions other than colo-rectal cancer, such as infection, hemorrhoids or inflammatory bowel disease. Still, if you have any of these problems, it's important to see your doctor right away so the cause can be found and treated, if needed.

Source: American Cancer Society

Making excuses are common and usually don't have lasting consequences. However, Betty Brooks Tyner isn't making any more excuses. The last one almost killed her.

Tyner now knows she was too quick to dismiss signs of a serious problem. The bleeding and pain she experienced sounded like hemorrhoids to her, especially since her brother-in-law had recently had surgery for the swollen veins. She knew the surgery was painful and she didn't want to go through that, so she didn't go to the doctor.

It wasn't until the bleeding became serious that she went to her doctor, who quickly sent her for a colonoscopy. Tyner didn't follow those instructions either.

"I had a bad infection in my leg and I was trying to get well from that. I put it off about four months before I went to get the test," she admitted. "I didn't want to be hurting at both ends, but I should not have waited."

She had the colonoscopy, a test where a doctor inserts a camera on a flexible tube throughout the large bowel and part of the small bowl. The results were the last thing Tyner wanted to hear. She had colon cancer.

"I was shocked. I was afraid. I was angry," she said.

Tyner immediately began treatment to shrink the cancer with chemotherapy and radiation followed by surgery to remove the cancer. Tyner still struggles with post-surgery problems, but she's now cancer free and counts that a blessing.

"It's amazing how we see the signs, but we don't pay attention," she said. "My father died five years after he was diagnosed with colon cancer. I knew better."

Tyner isn't alone. Many colon cancer patients do the same thing. In fact, 56 percent of the colon cancer patients treated at West Georgia Medical Center in the past two years received their diagnoses when they were in the life-threatening stages 3 or 4 of the disease.

"The problem, of course, is that at that point you do what you can, but the survival rate is not what it is at stage 1 or 2," said Charlene McClanahan, director of oncology services for West Georgia Health.

The number of colo-rectal cancer deaths in Troup County is significantly higher than the statewide rate. In Troup County, the colo-rectal cancer death rate per 100,000 people is 24.1, while the rate in Georgia is just 16.9 and in the United States, it is 17.1.

"We're at a much higher death rate than compared to the state and national rates," McClanahan said.

The irony is that colon cancer is an "easy disease" if caught early, said Dr. Chad Sisk, gastroenterologist with Gastroenterology Center of West Georgia.

"All colon cancer starts as a polyp. If you get your screenings as they are recommended, you catch polyps before they become cancer. The goal is prevention," Sisk said. "Most colon polyps are benign, but you can't predict which ones will be cancer and which ones will not, so the goal is to take them out so you never get colon cancer."

The larger the polyp, the higher the risk is that it's cancer or pre-cancerous. Family history also plays a role.

"If an immediate family member has colon cancer, you've got three times the risk," Sisk said.

Colonoscopies are recommend for everyone beginning at the age of 50. If there is a family member with colon cancer, especially if they were diagnosed at a young age, then colonoscopies should begin 10 years before that age. For instance, if a sister had cancer at 35 years old, the sibling should be tested at 25 years old.

The cost of colonoscopies can be a problem. Because the patient is asleep for the test, there is a high cost to a facility -- a hospital or a surgery center. The average cost is about $3,000, McClanahan said.

However, many private insurances pay 100 percent of the cost, without a deductible. Medicaid and Medicare also pay for colonoscopies.

Still, the result -- avoiding cancer -- can be priceless.

"Colon cancer is a common cancer, but it's something we can prevent. A lot of cancers you can't prevent," Sisk said. "But with colon cancer, if you get screenings, the hope is you never get colon cancer."

©2012 the LaGrange Daily News (LaGrange, Ga.)

Visit the LaGrange Daily News (LaGrange, Ga.) at

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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