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Jamaicans over age 50 are being encouraged to get tested for colon cancer, which is on the increase in western countries, including, developing countries like Jamaica.
Statistics from the Cancer Registry of Jamaica show that the disease affects 13 of every 100,000 persons in the population and is the third most common cancer affecting males and females worldwide.
“It is one of those cancers in western countries like ours that is on the increase.thus making cancer of the colon as popular as breast cancer,” says Dr. Joseph Plummer, general surgeon at the University Hospital of the West Indies.
Also called colorectal or bowel cancer, colon cancer begins in the colon or large intestine, where waste material is stored, and the condition may cause diarrhoea or constipation by blocking the passage of stool.
Most patients will show no symptoms of the disease until it has reached an advanced stage. The presence of bright red or dark blood in the stool is the most common sign of colon cancer, but other symptoms include continuous or cramping abdominal pain; change in bowel habits (diarrhea, constipation or narrowing of stools which lasts for more than a few days); weakness and tiredness; nausea and vomiting; unexplained weight loss; loss of appetite; pelvic pain; and anaemia.
While 80 per cent of colon cancer patients present no identifiable risk factors, Dr. Plummer informs “in about 20 per cent of patients, you will find that they have polyps or that they have a positive family history in which close family members have other bowel-related problems that puts them at risk.”
A polyp is normally growth that projects, usually on a stem, from a membrane in the body and can sometimes develop into cancer.
Dr. Plummer explains that “a polyp growth on the inner line of the colon is not cancerous by itself, but if left alone may turn into cancer normally over a 10-year period.”
Ulcerative colitis, a chronic inflammatory condition of the digestive tract, may also be another risk factor for colon cancer. This is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) which involves inflammation of the inner lining of the colon and rectum.
With research showing that certain diets are a major risk factor in persons who later develop colon cancer, the doctor advises against diets high in processed foods, rice, flour and fats, but recommends instead, a diet rich in fiber with fresh fruits and vegetables, since this promotes regular bowel movement.
According to Dr. Plummer, a diagnosis for colon cancer is uncommon before age 50, however early detection is promoted as the safest bet in getting adequate treatment and reducing the mortality rate.
“Patients, once they reach age 50, even when they don’t have any well known risk factors, should be undergoing screening as opposed to waiting for symptoms,” he states.
“All those patients with problems relating to their guts or large intestine really ought to go to the doctor to have early evaluation, which would mean a colonoscopy or a barium enema, which is a special X-ray of the large intestines,” advises Dr. Plummer.A colonoscopy is a medical test that uses a thin, flexible instrument that has a light and lens or camera at the end to view the inside of the large intestine.
The test checks for abnormalities of the inner lining such as colitis, colon polyps or cancer, while a barium enema is a procedure in which a liquid with barium in it is put into the rectum and colon by way of the anus.
Even with colon cancer on an increase, Dr. Plummer says that compared to other cancers such as stomach or pancreatic cancer, the disease stands a better chance of being cured.
While most people will not need to do a colonoscopy more than twice in their lifetime, some persons, who return normal results, may need to do another test in seven to 10 years, as it is a possibility that polyps can develop later.