Colon Cancer Find it Early!

Feb 28, 2012

By Barret Procyshyn, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

Some people may become a little uneasy, embarrassed or nervous when the word colon cancer comes up for discussion. Thanks to some very good programs endorsed by Cancer Care Manitoba, public awareness of colon cancer has dramatically improved. However, it is not something we can eliminate. We just need to continue to improve our awareness of the cancer and catch it early in screening programs.


The colon is approximately 6 feet long and transfers waste material from the small intestine to the rectum. Its main function is to absorb excess water from the stool. The greatest risk for colon cancer is age, as over 90% of cases occur in people 50 years of age or older. Some other risk factors for colon cancer are smoking, strong family history and especially a personal history of polyps or inflammatory bowel disease. Contrary to popular belief hemorrhoids do not cause colon cancer. Polyps are growths which can develop in the colon and rectum. These growths, shaped like a mushroom, are commonly small like the size of a pea, although they can get as large as a plum! If untreated polyps can bleed and eventually turn cancerous.


In Manitoba there will be over 800 new colorectal cancer cases this year and an estimated 320 colorectal cancer deaths. However; statistics show deaths caused from colon cancer are dropping. This is because of improved home screening programs and polyps are being discovered earlier and are being treated, before they develop into cancer. Colon cancer is not going away; we are just doing a little better job of finding it earlier in its progression.


The message here is very simple, just get screened. If you are between the ages of 50 and 74 a home screening test is recommended every two years. The home screening test or Fecal Occult Blood test involves sending in a sample of your stool to be tested in a lab. Data shows the home screening test reduces colon cancer death by up to 25%. If you have never been sent a home screening test and would like one, contact the Manitoba ColonCheck program at 1-866-744-8961. I know sending a stool sample away is not very exciting; however, when colon cancer is detected in the earliest stage, there is over a 90% chance of survival.


If irregularities in a home screening test are found or a person is at high risk of colon cancer a colonoscopy may be necessary. A colonoscopy allows for the visual examination inside your colon and rectum with small video camera. Sometimes a small tissue sample will also be taken. This is called a biopsy. A colonoscopy is done under sedation and pain is usually not present, although you may feel some discomfort. The procedure can be completed in as little as 20 minutes! Studies recently have assured us colonoscopies were very effective in finding colon cancer or polyps likely to develop into cancer. This saves lives. The procedure is safe and very quick, however many people dread the preparation for a colonoscopy.


The day prior to the procedure your colon must be emptied so the doctor can see the lining clearly. You will be given a very strong oral laxative, correctly called an oral purgative to completely clean out the colon. Sometimes an enema will also be used for certain situations although it seems to be less commonly used. These products can be purchased at the pharmacy and your pharmacist can explain how to use them correctly. As you can imagine, have probably heard or maybe have experienced; the oral purgative is not the most pleasant to use. You will have to be nearby a washroom at all times. Food and certain beverages must also be avoided to keep the colon clean. If you do not follow your pre-operative instructions closely your procedure will be cancelled. You can always ask your pharmacist questions if any arise. Much like the home screening test colonoscopy preparation is not the more pleasant thing to do; however, when you consider the alternative perhaps it is not all that bad.


The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional.

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