Did you know that March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in Canada?
It is estimated that about 50% of colon cancers could have been be prevented with lifestyle changes and early intervention. I see these kinds of statistics quite frequently and as much as they come from current scientific research, it is very important to bear in mind that only 50% of these cancers can be avoided. Not 100%. So it’s important not to impart the kind of thinking that makes one feel guilty or think “if only.” If you develop cancer, it is not your fault! No one can tell how an individual’s cells will react.
So, as I think about some prevention tips for National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, I remind you to take these messages as intended: to be helpful and to try and give folks a fighting chance, not to instill fear or guilt.
What can we do to look after our colons? The BC Cancer Agency has some excellent information.
Colon cancer is one of those diseases that can be picked up early and have treatment started before it gets out of hand. Generally speaking, survival rates are better the earlier the cancer is diagnosed.
There are new tests available, such as the Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) test, which your doctor can order. The FIT can be carried out every two years or so for individuals between 50 and 74 years of age. It’s an easier test to take than a colonoscopy and it’s from the comfort of your own bathroom. Family history of bowel cancer is a powerful reason to take the test.
Screening is the key to early detection. Discuss which screening option is best for you with your family doctor and visit the BC Cancer Agency for information about screening for colon cancer.
Keep track of your movements.
Changes in bowel movement such as blood in the toilet are always a good reason to visit your doctor. Chances are that it’s due to something less serious such as internal hemorrhoids, but don’t bury your head in the sand! Changes in bowel habit either accompanied or unaccompanied by abdominal pain are another good reason to see the doc.
I can’t emphasize enough the need to let your family doctor know who you are every now and then! Get a health screening at least once a year once you are getting over 40. Arrange an appointment and discuss with your physician what different screening options might be appropriate for your age.
For the FIT, it’s a case of check your poo in the loo and take the sample back to the lab. Simple.
Other tests such as blood sugar, blood pressure, tests for prostate cancer and cholesterol screening can all be done quite easily. These can inform you what lifestyle changes you might make to improve your chances of a healthy, long life.
Lifestyle changes often require commitment, of course, but are much easier than going through chemotherapy or surgery.
There are no guarantees in life but a little friendly check-in with a health care provider and some reading accompanied by small changes in diet and activity might just help you dodge a bullet down the road, and will keep you feeling good in the here and now!
All the best.
About Jim Coyle
Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.