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When the pandemic first gripped the world, many patients put off routine or emergency health care appointments due to fears of getting infected with COVID-19. To this point, colorectal cancer screenings plummeted.
This March, National Colorectal Cancer Awareness month, NorthShore Gastroenterologist Laura Bianchi, MD, has a critical message to patients: Do not put off your colonoscopy exam.
“The risk for transmission of the virus at a health clinic or hospital is now very low,” Dr. Bianchi said. “You do not want to delay cancer screening tests because they are focused on early detection. Removing polyps during colonoscopy can prevent colon cancer before it develops. That’s why it’s truly the ‘gold standard’ for screening.”The sharp rise in colon and rectal cancers in young adults prompted the American Cancer Society to change its guidelines for colonoscopies. Once recommended for people age 50 and up, it is now recommended for patients when they turn 45.
In 2020, 12 percent of new colon cancer cases were diagnosed in people under age 50. Undoubtedly, the untimely death of “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman last year at age 43 underscored the concern regarding the rising incidence of colon cancer in young adults and the importance of not ignoring new symptoms. Mr. Boseman was only 39 years old when he was diagnosed with advanced-stage colon cancer.
Regardless of your age, do not ignore these colon cancer symptoms outlined by Colorectal Cancer Alliance. And, Dr. Bianchi noted, regular screening is crucial because sometimes there are no symptoms.
Have you seen a change in your bowel habits?This includes intermittent or constant diarrhea and/or constipation, a change in the consistency of your stool, or more narrow stools than usual.
Do you have persistent abdominal discomfort?This can present as cramps, gas, or pain and/or feeling full, bloated, or a feeling like your bowel is not completely empty. Nausea and/or vomiting can also be a symptom.
Do you have rectal bleeding?Is there blood in your stool? The blood can be bright red, or the stool may be black and tarry or brick red.
Do you feel weak or fatigued?This may be accompanied by anemia or a low red blood cell count.
Do you have unexplained weight loss?If you are losing weight for no known reason, nausea, or vomiting, then it could be a symptom of colorectal cancer.