By Dr. Bradley Switzer
Chief of Hematology/Oncology
March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, an ideal time to learn more about colorectal cancer. Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the U.S. and the third leading cause of death for men and women in our country according to the American Cancer Society.
When it comes to your colon health, age plays an important factor. According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 90% of people with colon cancer are diagnosed after age 50, and the average age at diagnosis is 72. However, there is a rising incidence of colon cancer in younger people. Detecting colorectal cancer early is very important. When colorectal cancer is found at Stage 1, before it has spread, the five-year relative survival rate is about 90% according to the American Cancer Society. However, when the cancer progresses and spreads outside the colon or rectum, survival rates are lower.
This year, awareness of the importance of colorectal cancer screening is more important than ever. That’s because at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, many cancer screenings were cancelled or delayed. If you did not have your colon cancer screening, it’s important to get back on track and have this essential preventive health measure. Healthcare organizations like Reliant Medical Group have taken important steps to keep our offices safe and make sure that your screening procedure is done as safely as possible. There is no reason to put off your colorectal cancer screening because of Covid-19.
Everyone should be aware of the warning signs of colorectal cancer including:
- Bleeding from the rectum
- Blood in the stool or in the toilet after having a bowel movement
- Dark or black stools
- A change in bowel habits or the shape of the stool (i.e., more narrow than usual)
- Cramping or discomfort in the lower abdomen
- An urge to have a bowel movement when the bowel is empty
- Constipation or diarrhea that lasts for more than a few days
- Decreased appetite
- Unintentional weight loss
One of the reasons why colorectal cancer screening is so important is that early colorectal cancer is often associated with no symptoms. As a colon cancer tumor grows, it may bleed and/or obstruct the intestine causing a variety of symptoms. In some cases, blood loss from the cancer leads to anemia (a low number of red blood cells) causing symptoms such as weakness, excessive fatigue, and shortness of breath.
A colonoscopy is considered the “gold standard” for detecting colon cancer. During a colonoscopy exam, a tiny camera on a flexible tube transmits images inside of the colon to discover any growths or abnormalities such as polyps and cancers. At Reliant, our patients have their colonoscopies at our state of the art Endoscopy Center.
It’s important to follow your health care provider’s recommendations carefully on colon cancer screening. Everything from your age to your family history and prior health issues play a role in how often you need to be screened. The important thing is to make sure you have a proper colorectal cancer screening – it could save your life!
About Bradley Switzer, MD -Chief of Hematology/Oncology
Even though his father passed away at a young age from cancer, Dr. Bradley Switzer says his interest in medicine mostly came when he was an undergraduate student at USC. “One of my teachers, a physiologist, had a big interest in cancer and I wound up being fascinated by the science of it,” he explains. “After I graduated, I did some research work but ultimately decided that I needed to go to medical school. I did enjoy doing research...View profile View posts by this doctor