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Get Healthy Carson City: It’s time to talk about colorectal cancer screening

By Christine Thompson Cancer Prevention Programs Manager for Nevada Cancer Coalition
An inflatable colon will be on display throughout Reno/Sparks this month.

As we grow older, the risk of developing cancer increases. That’s the bad news.

The good news is there is a cancer screening test that can actually prevent cancer. It screens for cancer in a body part most of us do not like talking about: our colon. The colon is in the large intestine. The end point is the rectum and anus — not words we generally share in polite company.

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and we need to talk about our colons. We need to talk with our health care providers about getting screened for colorectal cancer. That is because colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the United States. In Nevada, unless things change, 1,480 new cases of colon cancer will be diagnosed this year. Worse, it is estimated that 540 Nevadans will die from colon cancer this year.

It does not have to be that way.

Screening saves lives

Colorectal cancer usually starts from a precancerous polyp in the colon or rectum. A polyp is a growth that should not be there. Over time, some polyps can turn into cancer. Screening tests can find precancerous polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. Screening tests can also find colorectal cancer early, when it is easiest to treat.

The American Cancer Society recommends that adults ages 45 and older with an average risk of colorectal cancer get screened. There are several ways to screen for colorectal cancer and most tests are covered by insurance, including Medicare. There are also low-cost options.

A colonoscopy is an outpatient procedure completed by a doctor using a small, flexible lighted tube with a camera attached to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and the entire colon. The patient is sedated during the test, and the doctor can find and remove most polyps and some cancers. Removing polyps during a routine colonoscopy is the best way to prevent colon cancer. A colonoscopy should be repeated every 10 years; however, if any polyps were found, the test could be repeated sooner.

Another type of colorectal cancer screening test is a stool test that can be completed at home. The FIT, which stands for Fecal Immunochemical Test, has you collect a stool sample at home using a stick or brush to obtain a small amount of stool. You return the test to the doctor or a lab where the stool sample is checked for blood. You will be notified of the results. A FIT should be completed each year. If your FIT test finds blood in your stool, you will need a colonoscopy.

All adults should talk with their health care provider about when they should be screened for colon cancer and which test is the best. A family history of colon cancer, or risk factors like having inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis means you may need earlier or more frequent screening.

What are symptoms?

Precancerous polyps and early-stage colorectal cancer do not always cause symptoms, especially at first. This means that someone could have polyps or colorectal cancer and not know it. That is why have a screening test is so important.

Some people with colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer do have symptoms, which could include:

•       Blood in or on your stool (bowel movement);

•       Stomach pain, aches or cramps that do not go away;

•       Losing weight and you do not know why.

If you are having any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor. They could be caused by something other than cancer. But the only way to know is to see your doctor.

Inflatable colon is in Northern Nevada

Nevada Cancer Coalition and partners in Northern Nevada have brought a new teaching tool to get people talking about and hopefully taking action to get themselves screened for colon cancer.

A giant, walk-through inflatable colon will be on display throughout the Reno/Sparks and Elko communities during March. The interactive exhibit shows examples and includes explanations in English and Spanish of what normal colon tissue, precancerous colon polyps and cancerous tumors look like. The colon will be at the Discovery Museum, 490 S. Center St. in Reno from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 27 and 28 and from noon to 5 p.m. March 29.

Nevada Cancer Coalition’s goal is to get people of all ages comfortable talking about colorectal cancer screening with each other and with their health care providers. With screening, colorectal cancer is highly preventable and treatable. Screening saves lives!

In addition to NCC, giant colon sponsors include the American Cancer Society, Gastroenterology consultants Drs. James Harris and Karin Klove, Nevada Health Centers, Drs. Matthew Crapko and Michael Thomas, Western Surgical Group and the State of Nevada Colorectal Cancer Control Program.

Carson City Health and Human Services urges everyone to take an active role in their health. For resources and information about department programs and services, check out our website at http://www.gethealthycarsoncity.org, follow us on Twitter at @CCHealthEd, “like” us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/cchhs, follow us on Instagram at @gethealthycarsoncity, call us at 775-887-2190 or visit us at 900 E. Long St. in Carson City.