March is colon cancer awareness month
Colon cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer and is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. In fact, 1 in 20 Iowans will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year. “There are no signs and symptoms of early colorectal cancer, so it is important to plan your screening,” says Debra Tekippe, RN, BSN, cancer resource committee chair at Winneshiek Medical Center.
Local colon cancer survivor, Gary Hovden, had no signs or symptoms five years ago when he was diagnosed with colon cancer. “My heart was beating differently, and I told my wife, Judy, that I thought we should go to the ER because something was wrong,” says Gary. “They discovered that my heart was working harder than usual because I was anemic, and then after more testing, including a colonoscopy, they told me they found cancer.” Gary had surgery at WMC and because his cancer was diagnosed early, he did not need further treatment. “Dr. Bierman even came in to see me on his birthday to tell me that it was all contained and hadn’t spread outside my colon,” says Gary. “I can’t say enough about how good the care is here, from the food service staff to the doctors, I got excellent care.”
Who should be screened?
The American Cancer Society recommends colon screenings beginning at age 50. Your chances of developing colon cancer may be higher if you have a family history of it and if you are over age 50. Local doctors frequently schedule colonoscopies (colorectal cancer screenings) at Winneshiek Medical Center. In fact, Winneshiek Medical Center performs about 950 colonoscopies each year. “I encourage people to get tested, especially if anyone in their family has had colon cancer,” says Gary. “People just need to make sure they get checked so that they can live.”
What is colon cancer?
Colon cancer begins in the colon or large intestine – near the end of the digestive system. The colon removes fluid and some nutrients from the food you eat and then pushes the remaining solid waste into the rectum where it can be expelled from the body. Most colon cancers begin as benign (non-cancerous) polyps that are flat or like a knob on the inside lining of the large intestine. Sometimes these growths will cause bleeding, constipation or blood in the stool. But often, there are no symptoms at all, so people may not know they have them. Some polyps remain non-cancerous, but some can become malignant (cancerous) over time. For this reason, doctors will remove polyps during a colonoscopy.
Lifestyle factors can also play a role in the development of these growths. Being overweight is a risk factor as well as smoking, high fat diets and consuming alcohol. Alternatively, research suggests that a high fiber diet and moderate exercise are helpful in preventing disease.
“Even if you are under the age of 50 and have no family history of colon cancer, if you experience symptoms including abdominal pain, blood in the stool, narrowing stools, or a change in bowel habits, you should speak to your doctor about colon screenings,” says Tekippe. “Colon cancer is 90% curable when detected early, which means you have the power to do something about it. And that’s why we’re here – to help you learn, understand and care for your health so you’ll enjoy many more birthdays.”