During Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, Regional West encourages those age 45 and older to learn the symptoms of colorectal cancer and get screened.
According to the Nebraska Cancer Coalition, around 950 new cases of colorectal cancer will be diagnosed in Nebraska this year. Recently, colorectal cancer diagnoses have risen in people under age 50. To help combat this, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends people age 45 and older should start regular colorectal cancer screenings.
As people age, their risk for colorectal cancer increases. In addition to a personal or family history of colorectal cancer, risk factors include lack of exercise, obesity, and poor diet. However, colorectal cancer can occur in younger people. Deb Keener, RN, a nurse in Regional West Community Health, has had a number of family members diagnosed with colorectal cancer. One of Keener’s younger relatives was diagnosed with colorectal cancer and had surgery to remove several inches of his colon due to cancerous polyps.
“I was working in Regional West’s surgery department at the time, and I was able to be there for my relative when he woke up from his surgery. I remember telling him that the surgeons got all the cancer and he didn’t have to do chemotherapy or radiation. He had a large incision, so he had to recover from that, but he got his life back,” she said.
Over two decades ago, Keener’s father-in-law woke up with blood in his stool. He was admitted to the hospital, but testing revealed he had end-stage colorectal cancer. He pursued chemotherapy, but ultimately succumbed to the disease.
“If he would have had a colonoscopy, or other screening tests that are available, they would have found his cancer months in advance,” Keener said.
In 2013, tragedy struck her family again when her mother-in-law was also diagnosed with end-stage colorectal cancer. She had a colonoscopy after her husband was diagnosed with colon cancer, but didn’t pursue annual screening options following the initial colonoscopy. After a four-month fight, Keener’s mother-in-law passed away. Keener’s grandmother also passed from colorectal cancer.
Though colorectal cancer does not always cause symptoms, some signs may include changes in bowel habits, blood in or on the stool, abdominal pain, aches, or cramps that don’t subside, and unexplainable weight loss. Armando Magana, MD, a physician in Regional West Physicians Clinic-Gastroenterology, recommends seeing a physician or provider if you have concerns.
“It’s important to recognize the warning signs for colorectal cancer and see your physician or provider immediately if you have any symptoms or concerns,” said Dr. Magana. “Early diagnosis and screening greatly benefits treatment outcomes.”
Though colon cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S., it is highly preventable with regular screenings. Regional West offers many screening options, including screening colonoscopies at Regional West Physicians Clinic-Gastroenterology. Regional West Community Health offers free screening kits, including fecal immunochemical test (FIT) kits. These tests use antibodies to detect microscopic blood in the stool, and can be done at home.
Keener is a strong supporter of colorectal cancer screening. In addition to colonoscopies, she emphasized there are options for free, simple, at-home tests that can detect colorectal cancer early.
“Colorectal cancer is a mean, ugly cancer, but we can prevent it,” she said.
To learn more about Regional West Community Health’s free screening kits, call 308-630-1821. For questions about screening colonoscopies at Regional West Physicians Clinic-Gastroenterology, call 308-630-2101.
Nebraska residents between the ages of 45 to 75 years old who meet certain income guidelines may be eligible for free or low-cost colon cancer screening. For more information, visit the Nebraska Colon Cancer Screening Program website or call 800-532-2227.
For more information about Regional West’s cancer services, call 308-630-1348 or visit RWHS.org.