Poop. Feces. Stool. Whatever you call it, you probably don't like to talk about it. Although you don't necessarily have to talk about it, you should become familiar with it if you want to protect your health. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among both men and women in the United States. Familiarize yourself with your stool and bowel habits: the earlier you detect anomalies and have them checked out, the better your prognosis will probably be if you're diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
Sobering News for Young Adults
According to the National Cancer Institute, colorectal cancer rates among adults ages 50 and older have fallen consistently for the past 30 years. They've increased consistently in the 50-and-younger demographic, though. Why? Researchers believe younger people consider colon and rectal cancers to be diseases associated with old age; colorectal cancer simply isn't on their radar. Unfortunately, by the time younger people's symptoms become unavoidable and they seek medical attention, the disease has progressed to an advanced stage.
The best defense against these devastating cancers is to pay attention to your body -- and what it is producing. Now is the ideal time to begin this healthy habit and urge loved ones to do the same: March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.
Familiarize yourself with your bowel habits and establish a baseline so you know what's normal for you. When your habits deviate from the norm, pay attention and discuss your concerns with your doctor. Here are symptoms that warrant immediate follow-up:
- Rectal bleeding and/or blood in the stool
- Feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that isn't alleviated by going
- Feeling the bowel is not emptying completely
- Ongoing abdominal cramping or pain
- Unexplained weight loss
- A change in bowel habits (constipation, diarrhea, or narrower-than-usual stool) that continues more than a few days.
Better Safe than Sorry
Colonoscopies (scope-guided exams of the rectum and colon) aren't considered standard medical tests for people 50 and younger, but that doesn't mean they're unnecessary. If you've experienced any of the symptoms above for an extended period, talk to your doctor -- and don't be shy. Undetected and untreated, colorectal cancer can kill you.
Set your embarrassment aside (doctors have seen and heard it all) and tell your physician exactly what symptoms you're concerned about. If your doctor agrees it makes sense to schedule an exploratory colonoscopy, act sooner rather than later. Not all insurance policies cover preventive colonoscopies, but many do cover the procedure if it's ordered by a doctor who has reason to suspect there is an issue.
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 60% of deaths from colorectal cancer could have been prevented with screening. If your bathroom breaks leave you uneasy, don't leave it up to chance. Talk to your doctor immediately.