The following are symptoms that might indicate colorectal cancer:
- A change in bowel habits
- Stools that are narrower than normal
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Unexplained weight loss
- Unexplained anemia
- Constant fatigue
- Blood in the stool
- A feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
- General abdominal discomfort such as gas, bloating, fullness and cramps
While the treatments for colon and rectal cancer differ, the screening tests for the diseases are the same. The American Cancer Society recommends that people age 50 and above, as well as those at high risk, be regularly screened. Those at an increased risk include people with a history of inflammatory bowel disease, those with a family and/or personal history of colorectal cancer or polyps, and those having familial adeniomatous polyposis, a rare disease where a person may have 1,000 or more polyps. We can help you understand these screening tests. The Screening tests, which may be performed alone, or in combination, include:
- Digital rectal examination (annual) An in-office examination where the physician inserts a gloved and lubricated digit into the patient’s rectum to feel for abnormalities.
- Stool Blood Test: fecal occult blood test (FOBT) or the fecal immunochemical test (FIT) (annual) These test for trace amounts of blood in the stool. If the test comes back positive, further tests should be done to identify the cause of bleeding. The FIT may be easier to perform than the FOBT and may give fewer false positive results.
- Double-contrast barium enema (every 5 to 10 years) The barium-enema procedure is performed by using a chalky substance to partly fill and open up the colon. Then air is pumped in, causing the colon to expand, enabling good x-ray films to be taken. The night before, as well as the morning of the procedure, a person undergoing it will need to have an enema.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy (every 5 years) This procedure involves insertion of a slender, lighted tube, known as a signmoidoscope, into the lower part of the colon through the rectum, allowing the doctor to examine the inside of the rectum and part of the colon for cancer or polyps. However, because the sigmoidoscope is only two feet long, the physician can only view approximately half of the colon. The patient will need to have an enema before undergoing the procedure in order to clean out the lower colon. This test can sometimes be uncomfortable.
- Total colonoscopy (every 10 years) A colonoscopy can also be an uncomfortable procedure, which is why patients will typically be given intravenous medication to relax them. However, it is also the best way to detect colon and rectal cancers. A colonoscope, which is a longer version of the sigmoidoscope, is inserted into the colon through the rectum. If the physician discovers a polyp, it will likely be removed and if anything else looks abnormal, a biopsy may be performed. A biopsy would involve removing a small piece of tissue through the colonoscope, which would then be sent to a laboratory to test for cancer.
This screening requires doctors to properly investigate symptoms of the disease including signs of a drop in blood count and anemia, complete diagnostic testing and investigation following complaints of rectal bleeding. we can guide you in this area and look to see if the appropriate tests were performed. Doctors are sometimes too quick to find an answer for the cause of rectal bleeding, leading to delayed diagnosis of cancer in some patients.
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If you have colon or rectal cancer and believe that your doctors ignored your complaints, failed to follow up on obvious symptoms, or delayed in diagnosing your condition we can help.
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Michael Gunzburg is a New York Colorectal Cancer Attorney serving the New York Metropolitan area, including New York City, Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland and Orange County