Early Detection Key To Beating Colorectal Cancer

LIVING

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For a while there, it looked like Marie Walls was going to make it to her son's wedding in North Carolina, after all.

Instead, the former Burger King cashier, who was the subject of a front-page Roundup story last month, spent the gala day July 6 in the emergency ward of Payson Regional Medical Center.

Her colorectal cancer, it turned out, was taking a faster toll than she had anticipated. And Walls, 46, wasn't anticipating much, since a variety of doctors told her just a month-and-a-half ago that she had only 3 or 4 months to live.

"I guess going to the wedding just wasn't meant to be," Walls said Friday afternoon from her current home at the Payson Care Center. "But my son told me that they made a video of the wedding, and he's going to send me a copy."

Walls paused. Her eyes drifted toward the window.

"I hope he sends it soon."

America's No. 2 killer

Cancer of the colon and rectum may not get as much press as breast or prostate cancers, but according to the American Cancer Society and American College of Gastroenterology, these forms of the disease known collectively as colorectal cancer have become America's No. 2 killer.

Each year, 131,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer and 55,000 die more than the 37,280 people who died in car accidents last year.

But those aren't the only frightening figures associated with the disease. Here's more:

Ninety percent of all colon cancer occurs in people age 50 years and older and 50 percent of those in that age group have asymptomatic, precancerous polyps, the cause of colon cancer. Colon polyps and cancer occur anywhere in the entire colon.

The risk of colon cancer increases beginning at age 40.

The vast majority of deaths from colorectal cancer could be avoided if people took advantage of screening colonoscopy, also known as the Gold Standard Test. Although most health insurance providers now cover colorectal screenings, only about 40 percent of Americans age 50 and older are getting tested perhaps because they aren't aware of the screening recommendations or are too embarrassed to discuss the subject with their doctors.

Invisible threat

Prior to her diagnosis, Marie Walls thought she was the picture of good health.

So do thousands of others each year, as colorectal cancer often has no symptoms.

However, the American Cancer Society advises, rectal bleeding can be a warning sign and should never be ignored. Notify your physician so that a detailed medical history, X-ray and possibly endoscopic evaluation may be done to make a diagnosis.

You may be at increased risk for colon cancer if you have a history of colitis due to Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. If you have a family history of colon cancer, you might also be at increased risk. It is a common misconception that colon cancer is a disease that primarily strikes men. An equal number of men and women die from colon cancer every year.

The American Cancer Society suggests that you see your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms for more than two weeks. They could indicate a non-cancerous intestinal disorder, such as an ulcer or hemorrhoids or they could be a sign of cancer.

Diarrhea or constipation

Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool

Stools that are smaller in width than usual

Abdominal gas and discomfort

Frequent gas pains

A feeling that the bowel never completely empties

Unexplained weight loss

Constant tiredness

Unexplained anemia

Barring such signs and symptoms, there are precautions which can be taken against colorectal cancers.

Be physically active; include at least 30 minutes of exercise or activity in each day's schedule.

Eat a diet rich in whole grains, fiber, fruits and vegetables.

Avoid fatty foods and excess alcohol.

Know your family's cancer history.

If you are over 50 or have a family history of colon cancer, get screened yearly.

Additionally, according to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, Americans who take aspirin regularly to keep their hearts healthy may also reduce their risk of cancer. And taking an aspirin every other day for 20 years may cut the risk of colon cancer almost in half.

Research conducted by doctors from St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City also shows that a combination of aspirin and cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins may nip cells in the earliest stages of cancer. But since aspirin can cause stomach irritation and bleeding, be sure to consult with your doctor before dosing yourself.

Helping Marie

"I'm hanging in there," Walls said last week, her voice reduced to a whisper. "I'm fighting this thing every inch of the way."

In the meantime, her friends and former co-workers have been organizing various fund-raising efforts to help Walls and her husband, Ted, pay for medical bills incurred prior to her acceptance into a state health insurance program. About $6,000 has been raised so far, according to Burger King manager Kim Ewaniuk.

Donations to help Marie Walls and her family can be made at Bank of America, account No. 004650813973.

For more information, call Kim Ewaniuk at 474-6213, or Larry McDaniel at 474-4449.

To find out more about colorectal cancer, call the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Information Service at (800) 422-6237.

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