Jamaicans over 45 Urged to Get Screened for Colon Cancer

Photo: Michael Sloley Consultant Gastroenterologist at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) and Jamaica Cancer Society (JCS) volunteer, Dr. Mike Mills.

Story Highlights

  • The Jamaica Cancer Society (JCS) is appealing to Jamaicans over the age of 45 to get screened for colon cancer.
  • Speaking in an interview with JIS News, Consultant Gastroenterologist at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UWI) and JCS volunteer, Dr. Mike Mills, noted that colon cancer is the third most common cause of cancer-related death in Jamaica in both males and females.
  • As it relates to symptoms of the disease, Dr. Mills said blood in the stool is one of the major indicators of the presence of cancer and is a concerning sign in older persons.

The Jamaica Cancer Society (JCS) is appealing to Jamaicans over the age of 45 to get screened for colon cancer.

Speaking in an interview with JIS News, Consultant Gastroenterologist at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UWI) and JCS volunteer, Dr. Mike Mills, noted that colon cancer is the third most common cause of cancer-related death in Jamaica in both males and females.

“In females, cervical and breast cancer would be more common and in males it is prostate and lung cancer. The important thing, however, for colon cancer, even more so than other cancers, is that you can take active steps to prevent its development by doing active screening,” he pointed out.

Dr. Mills said that a screening protocol can be developed for an individual, depending on their risk.

“Everyone is at some risk for colon cancer because everyone has a colon, but some are at higher risk depending on their diet or lifestyle. So, for example, diets which are high in processed meat, high in fat and low in fibre, all increase your risk for colon cancer,” he noted.

He said also that there are medical conditions that increase the risk of colon cancer, such as inflammatory bowel disease, which raises the risk after about 10 years. These individuals, he advised, will need to take active steps much earlier than the average person to try and prevent development of the disease.

Dr. Mills said that average-risk individuals should do colon cancer screening between the ages of 45 and 50 years, noting that there are many screening options.

As it relates to symptoms of the disease, Dr. Mills said blood in the stool is one of the major indicators of the presence of cancer and is a concerning sign in older persons.

“The older you are, the greater your chance of having cancer in the bowel as your cause of bleeding,” he noted.

He said it is important for all individuals to be aware of all the possible symptoms of cancer.

“This is why we tend to focus on screening, especially for cancers that are popular in our population,” he pointed out.

“The simplest tool for screening is a stool test for blood. However, this is not you looking to see if there is blood in the stool, but rather going to your doctor at the appropriate age. The doctor will send you to the lab to get a stool sample tested to see if there is a microscopic amount of blood,” he explained.

Dr. Mills said blood in the stool could be the first sign that there is something called a polyp inside the colon, and a polyp is usually present at the precancerous stage.

He explained that a polyp is not cancer, but noted that a significant amount of cancers will develop in individuals who have had a polyp.

He said the objective is to find the polyp and to remove it before it has a chance to become cancer, and if blood is detected, a colonoscopy (putting a camera inside the bowel to look for the signs of the polyp and remove it) is done.

Dr. Mills informed that blood in the stool is one of the common presenting complaints of patients that usually results in anxiety about cancer.

He, however, pointed out that there are things that can present with bleeding that are not cancer-related. Some common conditions are haemorrhoids and diverticular disease.

The month of March is observed as Colon Cancer Awareness Month.

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