by Dr. Kiyanda Baldwin Young
Approximately 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer per
year. It is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.
What is amazing is that approximately 60% of these deaths could be avoided.
Colorectal cancer often does not have any symptoms. Colorectal cancer begins
as a polyp which is a small growth that is typically benign or NOT CANCER.
Typically, polyps do not cause symptoms either. Additionally, because
polyps and colorectal cancer develop on the inside of the colon, the best
way to find them is with a test that looks inside of the rectum and colon/large
One of the best tests that looks inside of the colon is called a colonoscopy.
A colonoscopy is a test in which a flexible camera, or scope, is placed
inside of the anus and is used to look all throughout the large intestine.
If a polyp is found, it is removed at the same time. If a mass or cancer
is found, it is biopsied at the same time so that person can then be referred
to a doctor who can treat them. Colorectal cancer can be treated with
surgery, chemotherapy, and sometimes radiation.
The earlier a cancer is found, the more likely it is that the cancer can
be cured. More importantly, if a polyp is found and removed, it can no
longer turn into cancer because it is no longer inside of the body. If
more people had colonoscopies at the appropriate time or as soon as they
developed symptoms, 60% of colorectal CANCER deaths could be avoided.
Some symptoms that colorectal cancer could cause include pain in your abdomen,
change in bowel habits like diarrhea or constipation, blood from the rectum
or in the stool, bloating, nausea, or vomiting. These symptoms do not
necessarily mean that someone has colorectal cancer but if you develop
these symptoms, you should be evaluated by a physician.
Please listen to your body and get examined if you notice any changes.
It is not safe to assume you know the reasons for the changes in your
body, nor should you listen to your friends advice about what they think
is causing your symptoms. Even though I am a physician, I still go to
my doctor when I notice new changes.
There is nothing that completely prevents the development of colorectal
cancer. However, some things that may potentially decrease your chances
of developing colorectal cancer include exercising, eating a low fat high
fiber diet, avoiding a diet that is high in red meat, losing weight if
you are obese, smoking cessation, and limiting your alcohol intake.
Guest contributor Dr. Baldwin Young of
Mary Washington General Surgery provides leading edge surgery and works with other physicians to coordinate
patient care. She follows patients before, during and after the surgical
process with a focus on pre-operative teaching for both patients and their family.