Adults should ask about screening for colorectal cancer

Fair warning: This will be an uncomfortable but necessary discussion about an uncomfortable but necessary procedure.

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Yes, there is such a thing. Not sure what March did to earn such a distinction.

But while we might squirm at the topic, designating such a month is meant to remind people that avoiding colorectal checks can have far worse consequences.

Colorectal cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society, which estimates Michigan will see 4,510 new cases of colorectal cancer and 1,670 deaths due to the disease this year.

Some symptoms to watch for, according to Aspirus Upper Peninsula, include:

— Blood in or on the stool;

— A change in bowel habits;

— Diarrhea or constipation that lasts more than a few days;

— Stools that are narrower than usual;

— Weakness and fatigue;

— Abdominal pain, or problems with gas or bloating;

— Rectal bleeding;

— Unexplained weight loss.

While other conditions, such as hemorrhoids or irritable bowel syndrome, also can cause such symptoms, it’s worth talking with a primary care provider if experiencing any of these signs.

And keep in mind that waiting until something seems amiss can be waiting too long. Many cases of colorectal cancer have no symptoms, especially early on, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Which is why early screening is so crucial, the MDHHS stressed. Doctors can find and remove polyps in the colon during screenings before they become cancerous.

“Adults age 50 and older should be regularly screened for colorectal cancer,” said Dr. Eden Wells, chief medical executive with the MDHHS. “Unfortunately, many people aren’t getting tested because they don’t believe they are at risk or they aren’t aware of the different testing or screening options.”

Colorectal cancer risk increases after age 50. However, those with a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps should talk with their doctor about starting testing before age 50.

In addition to colonoscopies, several other screening options are available, including take-home tests. Many health insurance plans, including the Healthy Michigan Plan, cover preventive tests.

Yes, colorectal checks can be uncomfortable — but necessary.

“The importance of early detection cannot be overstated,” Wells said. “Make it a priority to discuss the different testing options, including at-home tests, with your provider.”

For resources for uninsured residents and for more information about testing and prevention, go to MDHHS’s cancer prevention and control website at http://www.michigan.gov/mdhhs/0,5885,7-339-71550_2955_2975—,00.html.

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