March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Ten years ago March was declared National Colorectal Awareness Month in order to help raise awareness to the second leading cause of cancer deaths here in the United States. Research has shown approximately 5% of the American adult population will be affected with this disease, however, early detection is essential for long term survival.

One of the most difficult factors physicians face is the notion that people do not like to talk about their bowel habits, whether this is out of embarrassment or lack of knowledge that any change in our bowel habits can be a sign or symptom that something may be wrong. But also know that the signs and symptoms (see below) can be quite vague so don’t panic if you are experiencing one or more, since there are many other ailments of the gastrointestinal tract that can be responsible for your issues. But, please don’t hesitate to talk with your doctor if you have any concerns.

In order to better understand this disease, we must first identify who may be at risk. Sadly, we all are, especially those over the age of 50. Below is a list which will help identify some of the other risk factors.

  • Adults over age 50- more than 90% of those diagnosed with this disease are over the age of 50 with the average age being 72 years.
  • Smokers or those who use other tobacco products
  • Sedentary individuals
  • Diet high in fat and low in fiber
  • Obesity
  • Family history of inherited colorectal cancer
  • Family history or personal history of polyps, both cancerous and benign
  • Family history or personal history of inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
  • Women who have been previously diagnosed with cancers of the ovary, uterus or breast

  • Because colorectal cancer symptoms may mimic symptoms of various other gastrointestinal diseases it is important to talk over any new or changing symptoms with your health care provider. It is always best to err on the side of caution since identifying this disease early on can lead to a greater chance of survival.

    Below is a list of symptoms that have been identified with this disease.

  • Bleeding from the rectum
  • Bright red or very dark (black looking) stools
  • Constipation, diarrhea or the sensation that you did not empty your bowel
  • Narrowed stools, more than usual
  • Gas, cramps, bloating
  • Loss of weight for no known reason
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting

  • One test that every individual over the age of 50, with or without a family or personal history of colorectal cancer, is the colonoscopy. If you are younger than 50 and have a family history of colorectal cancers or you have experienced risk factors mentioned earlier, your physician may recommend a colonoscopy before that time.

    Unfortunately, the colonoscopy has received a bad rap from many, mainly from the preparation that one must do prior to the test. But this test is crucial in making an early diagnosis for many, therefore allowing for a positive recovery. Do not allow embarrassment and modesty to stand in the way of potentially saving your life.

    I hope you will take time to discuss your concerns with your doctor. Also remind your family members the necessity to have a routine colonoscopy recommended by their physician. For most this is done every 10 years if the first test was clear, but for those with a family history or other risk factors may be required to do so more frequently. This is one cancer that if caught early can be treated, therefore allowing one to have a long life ahead.

    Were you aware colorectal cancers are so prevalent? Do you feel embarrassed to talk with your doctor about your bowel habits? Have you had a colonoscopy? Have you or anyone else in your family been diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer?

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My grandmother died of colon/rectal cancer. I have just had my 3rd colonoscopy. 1St one I had several polyps removed and detection of diverticulosis . 2nd one 3 polyps removed. 3rd one only ONE polyp removed and I do not need to return for 5 years!!! That's prevention. Report
I am the poster person for getting a colonoscopy. I had one at 52 -- I had put it off for two years from 50. I had NO symptoms. I couldn't wait to get it over with and woke up to find out I needed surgery because I had an ulcer in my colon, probably from high blood pressure. Anyway I had a foot taken out and everything was fine. My doctor wouldn't say it was cancer-free until all tests came back and then he told me I was OK. A couple of years later he showed me the surgeon's report that was sent to him. It said, "probably malignant." He said I should say thank you every morning when i wake up -- it was that close. Report
I think we should all be aware of our body changes, I do find some men are worse then women at admitting they are unwell when it comes to serious illnesses. Maybe they think its a sigh of weakness, but it's not if you are ill then its good to tell the person closest to you so they can help you through it, or get help for you. Report
I was also diagnosed with colon cancer 2 years ago. No symptoms, never had any form of cancer in my family. I did however notice that my bowel movements were getting thinner (pencil like). There was never any bleeding or soreness of any kind. I ended up with stage 3 cancer because it had gone through the walls of the colon and entered into my lymph nodes. I went through the surger to remove a section of my bowel and I went through 6 months of chemotherapy (not fun). I am feeling great now. They say I have seventy percent chance of survival. I feel optimistic.
I was 43 when the cancer started and 53 when they found it. It had been growing for 10 years and I didn't even know. In hindsight - I was tired a lot.
Please get checked if you can - it saved my life. Report
My late husband died of colon cancer approximately two weeks after turning 46. He had no symptoms, whatsoever, and his family had no history either. One evening he came to me stating he was 'constipated' and was having terrible cramps because of that. I went to the store got an enema and returned home. I knew he wouldn't be thrilled about an enema but it was the only solution I was able to think of at the time. Well, when all was said and done the enema did not work!

Having worked in the healthcare profession for 25+ years (at that time) I was worried but quickly went about scheduling an appt with our PC physician. My husband was then referred to a GI specialist who in turn had x-rays and then a CAT scan (my husband was a very large man 6'3" and weighed 285 lbs) which revealed three large masses; one the size of a grapefruit, one an orange and the last a lemon-sized. He had surgery and when the surgeon came out (1-1/2 hours after the stated time for the surgery) I knew the diagnosis was going to be grim and it was. Although they were able to get approximately 99% of the tumors, the surgeon stated it looked as though someone had taken a paintbrush and just splashed about in all his intestinal areas. While I heard the physician tell me, it wasn't until I read the operative report (the day after surgery) that I realized just how devastating this disease process is. All I could do was cry in my car, knowing I had to go in and tell this ever gentle man he was going to die even with chemotherapy, he was beyond hope and there was nothing I or the physicians could do to fix it.

It was a very slow 6 months, and a painful death to watch. He had been the picture of health, neery a thing wrong with him ever. OH, and he had had a complete physical just 2 months prior to his 'constipation' colonoscopy was performed nor even mentioned, probably in part due to no family history and he was only 45 yrs old. He withered before my eyes and although I didn't see it (your mind blocks out certain things when you care for someone day in and day out 24/7) he was in constant pain always feeling as though he had not 'emptied' his bowels. He was in so much pain's hard to the end in hospice (I had to put him in hospice on my 40th birthday) I began to see how he had deteriorated going from 285 and on the day he died he weighed 90 lbs.

He was too young to have a colonoscopy and it still makes me wonder if the testing age were 40 instead of 50, would we be able to save more lives?

Ironically, I was diagnosed with Crohn's 20 years ago (when I was 33 yrs old) when I suddenly started having rectal bleeding and my husband took me to the emergency room. I also have been diagnosed with IBS, IBD, colitis, and ileitis. As a result, I have a colonscopy every year and because of my Crohn's I sometimes have the pleasure of having (lol here) two a year! I do it because of my family and my grandchildren so I can have fun, play and hopefully leave a piece of me with each of them.

Simply said 'GET A COLONOSCOPY' even if the cost is out of range for your personal finances - make payment arrangements, isn't your life worth $500?

I'm having mine done on April 8th
My Doctor called to remind me
I think that was great!
It's not in my plans to die young or with colon cancer
Please be checked

Melanie Report
My mother died of Colorectal Cancer, the suffering was horrible. Believe me when I say a colonoscopy is nothing to endure compared to the disease itself. Early detection is a life saver, literally. Report
Reading the comments here, I feel compelled to tell you that if you look hard enough you can find doctors/clinics that will perform a colonoscopy free of charge if you are at high risk - meaning if you are over 50, or you have a 1st degree relative (mom, dad, grandparent, sister, brother) who was diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer. Working here at the Rhode Island Cancer Council and teaching about cancer screening and prevention, I know that you can find these services. We are lucky in RI in that all health insurance cos. doing business here are required by law to cover colonoscopy. Check for local free health clinics or call your Department of Health for information on where to go. It is so important to be screened!

I'd also like to say that the current advisement is if someone in your family (a 1st degree relative) has been diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer, you NEED to begin screening TEN (10) years earlier than the age at which they were diagnosed. For instance, if your dad was diagnosed at age 51, your screening NEEDS to begin at age 41. For more information you can go to and click on "Cancer Info." On the drop down menu select "Colorectal cancer." (
) This information has been reviewed and approved by local oncologists.

It is too bad such an important test is so ridiculously expensive. We definitely need better health care in this country. Report
I had a colonoscopy when I was 16 years old because I was experiencing bloody stools. The stuff I had to drink in preparation for the procedure was awful. However, I glad that I had the procedure done. Lucky for me, my test came back negative. That being said, I now take precautions by eating more fiber, drinking more whatever, and trying to limit the amount of fat I eat. Report
No one i know has been diagnosed yet, but i will definitely take care and be on the look out. One more reason to eat healthy. I also know i need to see the doctor about my bowel movements, and for some reason, this month every where i look i find a reminder. Definitely to do before the end of the month. Report
I have not had a colonoscopy, even though there is inflammatory bowel disease on my mother's side of the family & my mother has had benign polyps. My reason is not embarrassment, (although certainly I am not thrilled with that aspect), but financial. My insurance does not pay for colonoscopies, even for those over 50. My sister went for one recently & it cost over $500!

I pay nearly $500/month for my insurance, but have a high deductible and no tests are covered until I meet that deductible, except screening mammograms and those tests considered as part of an annual physical, but they have to be done in your PCP's (primary care physician) office. Since no PCP's in my area do their own blood work, I have to pay for all my blood work. However, the normal screening blood work once a year is nowhere near the cost of a colonoscopy.

Unless I get a job with better insurance, the cost of a colonoscopy becomes affordable, or my financial situation improves dramatically (actually I may be laid off), I don't foresee my having a colonoscopy. I guess I will just have to hope that I donít develop any polyps at least till I turn 65 & Medicare will cover it to some degree. If this is, and I believe it is, so critical for one's health, it should be covered as a part of routine screening for those who are at higher risk. Report
I lost my mom to colon cancer 22 years ago, and then one of my sisters was diagnosed about 7 years ago. Fortunately, my sister was a survivor! All you have to do is watch loved ones with this terrible disease to realize any uncomfortable prep far outweighs being able to live a longer more quality of life. I am happy to see more articles stressing the importance of the test. If only my mom had done it years ago, perhaps she would be with us today and able to enjoy her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Report
While so many of us are aware of the screening available for breast cancer and colon cancer and for that matter prostate cancer, for many there is no access to these procedures and if something is found, what then? Report
I had one done a few years ago and it was good to see how NICE my insides looked as I got to watch on the monitor. I was really proud of myself for having such nice smooth innards. LOL Report
I lost my Mom at age 49 to colon cancer. I am now age 48 and worry about it all the time. I have no insurance and can't afford the colonoscopy. I am on a two year waiting period for Adult Basic low cost insurance. The health care in this country is horrible. Let's hope there are some changes made soon. Report
My best friend lost her 44 year-old boyfriend to colon cancer in Dec. He assumed his symptoms were related to gall bladder surgery he had about a year before he was diagnosed He was Stage 3 at diagnosis. After an 8 month battle, the cancer combined with his other health issues (diabetes and heart disease) won. Report
I still feel a little embarrassed telling this story but I believe it is important to tell people how important early detection is.....At the age of 29 I noticed blood in my stool. I went to my doctor, had a colonoscopy then aprox. 3 weeks later had surgery removing part of my colon due to a large polyp. The polyp was biopsied and had cells that were changing. The cells were neither benign nor cancerous. If I would have waited another year it would have been cancer. At the time I was almost at my heaviest weight, didn't exercise much or eat very well. 5 years later I am 60 pounds lighter, exercise more, try hard to eat better, have increased my fiber intake and last week went in for another colonoscopy which was clean!! Every 5 years I have to do the awful prep and go in for a colonoscopy, but the prep was better this time around so hopefully 5 years from now it will be just a little better. Report
Coloscopies are important but not possible if one doesn't have the $3,000. Many insurance companies will not pay if the test is considered routine screening. My insurance said it would only be (partially) covered and then only IF I were having symptoms to warrant the test. This is sad. Report
This article certainly emphasizes to me the need to be proactive about my health. I have suffered from IBS for at least 10 years. The only treatment any doctor I've seen has recommended was dietary. (Increased fiber, avoid berries and anything with small seeds, avoiding corn, popcorn and excessive citrus and fat) Only 2 of the many doctors I've seen over this time have recommended a colonospy and not a very strong recommendation at that. I clearly remember a doctor saying I should have this test "one of these days". When I asked if he would schedule it he promised to call me to recommend a gastrointerologist. He never did. Of the 8 symptoms listed here for colorectal cancer, I have experienced 6 and am currently experiencing 4. I am making an appointment today. Report
My dad was diagnosed with colon cancer two summers ago. Luckily it was early enough that they could treat it. He underwent an operation to remove part of his colon. Now he is in remission .Thank the Lord there is hope out there. Report
My grandmother died of colon cancer when I was 4 months old and my mother died from it when I was 17, she was only 54 and had been battling the disease for 3 years. My mother may have had a chance but was scared to go through treatments after she saw what had happend to her mother while going through chemo and radiation. Someone in a doctor's office also scared her from getting an ostomy bag, they had one and said it was a nightmare...too much trouble. In the end, my mother ending up going through the radiation, chemotherapy (she received through a pic line she always had to wear), a colostomy and a hysterectomy. She waited too long, she eventually went through all the treatments anyway but nothing was able to help her. The ostomy bag really wasn't even much trouble, not more than needing to brush your teeth everyday. Please never wait like my mother did. Truth is, technology is ever changing and becoming better. All people also react differently to treatments. My mother never did lose her hair either. The pain she experienced in the end, on top of being bed ridden for eight months is far worse than a colonoscopy could ever be. Please do get tested and, if necessary, get treated. Report
My SIL was an 18-yr breast cancer survivor, but nearly 3 years ago she ignored the early signs of colon problems. By the time she went to her dr 5 months later, it was too late - he suggested she go to a hospice rather than seek treatment. That was out of the question for her, so she had surgery, followed by chemo, and seemed to be doing well until just after Christmas. Her cancer had begun to spread rapidly, and she passed away 2 years ago last January. Had she sought treatment when she first noticed her symptoms, her cancer would most likely have been treatable and she would be alive today. Don't assume your problems are minor - see your dr and have the test! Report
I'm not in any high-risk category, but as soon as I turned 50 my doctor ordered a colonoscopy for me. I really didn't enjoy it, but of course I'm glad I had it done. No problems detected.

You know, I don't remember my doctor ever asking me about bowel movements & such, except on the list of an intake form. I think she should--& I wouldn't be embarrassed to talk about mine.

It may be helpful for people to know that unlike other screening tests, insurance companies do not classify the colonoscopy as a lab test but as SURGERY. I had not been prepared to get a bill from the hospital for a share of the costs--it would have been nice to know ahead of time. Report
Colonoscopies nowadays have much improved over the ones of 20 plus years ago! The prep is really no big deal except for inconvenience! The procedure itself is OK. It is much better knowing for sure, than taking the chance that you do not have cancer. The symptoms can creep up on you and be very subtle, until finally you have to pay attention. Then it may be too late!!! Report
There are alot worse things that drinking the awful tasting stuff and running to the bathroom all the time. I mean then you are cleaned out for awhile and that is a good thing. Anyway I don't know anyone that has it or has had it. The good thing is our doctors office sends out the little test kit yearly to have that test first and then the colonoscopy if required. Report
My grandmother died of colon cancer in 1965, before I was born. Back then colonoscopies didn't exist, her abdomen became enlarged, they did an xray and found a mass. The surgeon opened her up and the just closed her back up without doing anything, the cancer had metastasized everywhere. She was sent home to die. My mother, who was a nurse took care of her at home, said it was the worst possible way to go. I have already had a screening colonoscopy and yes the prep is not desirable, but like someone said before this could save your life. Report
For those who feel that the risks of a colonoscopy outweigh the benefits are wrong in their thinking. Unfortunately, if you wait until you have symptoms, it could be too late. There are risks to any procedure or medecine. Scout around for a dr and facility that you are comfortable with. Don't wait until it is too late! Report
I have had 2 colonoscopies so far because of symptomology. During the last one last year they found internal hemorrhoids but I do have family history of colon cancer. My grandfather on my dad's side died from colon cancer and stomach cancer. Basically, the cancer had metasized to other parts of the body. My dad has also had polyps in his colon. Report
I have my appt for my first colonoscopy on the 30th. I'm 3 years late but figure I better get it done sooner than later. Report
No family history, no issues, so for me I feel the risks outweigh the rewards. And there ARE risks, my husband was exposed to Hep C & Aids by a facility trying to save the 7 cents a new syringe costs. Thanks, but no thanks, I'll get one IF & when I have issues. Not until then. And let's not forget the perforated bowel that is also a risk of this procedure. Report
I went for my 'screening' colonoscopy just before I turned 51. A tumor 12cm in size was discovered. I had no symptoms, as far as I knew, and felt fine! I've had surgery to remove the tumor (which was cancer, stage 3) and am currently undergoing chemotherapy to ensure that all the stray cells are gone. I did, on hindsight, have symptoms, but none I would have recognized as anything different or concerning. Mostly because I wasn't aware of the symptoms of colon cancer but also because, with IBS and lactose intolerance, I was used to having 'odd' bowel movements occasionally... I am a HUGE advocate for screening and continued checks as dictated by your doctor. You might be saving your own life!! Report
I'll be 31 next month. My maternal grandmother died of colon cancer when she was in her 50's and my dad had rectal cancer in his 40's and survived it because it was caught in time.

I ALWAYS have trouble going to the bathroom, usually only 1-2 times per week can I even go, and sometimes I have to take laxatives to be able to go if it gets to a week without going. I get my recommended fiber on most days and I believe I drink enough because I pee regularly.

I do get scared that colorectal cancer may hit me, too, but my doctor told me not to worry about a colonoscopy until I turn 40. Should I get one done sooner? Some of these comments are scaring me. Report
My mother died of colon cancer and that is what actually lead me here to spark. I decided that since it now has been in the family that I should do some things to lower my risk of getting colon cancer. I am now trying to lose weight, I track my fiber intake, and I am more active.

And I am not embarrassed to talk to my doctor about my bowel habits or changes in them. It could save my life. Report
Okay, okay ... I'm making my appointment! Reading all these comments have me scared out of my wits now ... LOL! My father developed colon cancer, but at age 80 after a lifetime of smoking (started when he was 12). I stopped smoking almost 4 years ago, but my doc's been on my case to have this screening. Report
My 75 year old friend has had her 3rd. colonoscopy over the last 3 years. Each time they find polyps. Not pre-cancerous, but those little guys CAN develope into cancer. She has a history in her family. Has had 16 polyps removed over the last 3 years.

As a nurse, I take care of folk all the time, alot younger than myself, who have colon cancer.

One does NOT always have symptoms till it is too late.

I have absolutely NO history of colon cancer in my family, no cancer at all for that matter. VERY healthy bowels, however will be having a colonoscopy soon just because!!

Colon cancer and pancreatic cancer are becoming #1 in death rates among people in their 50's and 60's.

My mother died of cancer of the colon twenty years ago. The saddest thing was that it took a long time before we found out what was the cause of her ailing health. I had my first colonoscopy at 49 and thank God it was clean. The prep work is nothing compared to the benefits of peace of mind or catching any menace to your health in time. I've made my sisters also do their tests because it can run in families although my mum was the first in ours to have had this. Everyone who is in the 'at risk' company should go and have it done. I can't urge you enough. The test is repeated every five years or so. And guys, this means you too!! Report
My doctor had been wanting me to have a colonoscopy since I turned 50. Finally when I was 56 I had it done. It wasn't as bad as I had feared. The nice thing is that I don't have to have another one for 10 years. Report
My paternal grandfather died at 61 of colon cancer - three months after diagnosis. In 1978, when he died, colonoscopies were NOT common. I am glad to say that my father has had a "clean" colonoscopy every year that he has one (every five years, since he has a history of it in his family). I just had my baseline last year, after having had gastric bypass, so the prep was cumbersome, but definitely worth the clean bill of health in the end. I highly recommend that people follow their doctors' advice and get tested when it is suggested! Report
Fortunately just because you have several of these symptoms does not mean you have a problem. My husband has several of these symptoms and at 39 finally went to the doc and complained and with the family history was immediately sent to have colonoscopy, everything looked fine, still has the symptoms though. Report
I had a colonoscopy a few years after my husband had his first one........he told me there was NOTHING to it except for the clean-out procedure.....he was right..there was nothing to it and since I already have IBS...the clean-out procedure was like an every day thing for me Report
I am not afraid to talk to my doctors about anything. I have crohns disease so I have a GI doctor and have had many tests in the past 9yrs. since I got diagnosed with Crohns. I also have lupus so I am used to talking to doctors about everything that is needed to discuss. I figure they are used to hearing it anyway...and if you don't tell them what is going on they can't help you. Also, if I don't feel comfortable enough to talk to the doctor then I see it as a sign to go see another one. Report
My brother died of colon cancer at age 48. I never knew my paternal grandfather as the disease claimed him young. No one has ever died of embarassment. Get screened. I've had several colonoscopies. The prep stinks, but it only one day out of your life. Report
My brother was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2007. He had surgery and went through chemo. His last day of chemo was December 25, 2007. Then in April 2008, he had surgery for a hernia on his incision. Shortly after that, he started having problems again. Just last week, he has surgery again (3rd one in 22 months). They opened him up and closed him back up. He has colon cancer again and it is inoperable. He will go through chemo again. He now has a colostomy bag. He tells everyone to get a colonoscopy when they are 50. He was 52 when he got his and it was too late. Report
Somehow I forgot to mention that I have known for a long time about colon cancer. It runs in my family and has taken two lives in my lifetime. My Grandfather was in his 40ís when it killed him. Everyone in that line has to get screenings earlier and more frequently, especially the men. So far everything of concern has been caught early and we've lost no one from that disease since. Report
I donít feel embarrassed talking to my doctors about anything. The way our bodies function is a natural part of life that everyone deals with. Whatís more itís their field of study, they should hardly be squeamish about it and neither should we. You want real embarrassment think what it would be like being diagnosed with a disease too late to beat it because you didnít want to blush. Heading to an early grave because I couldnít bring myself to discuss excretion? With my own doctor no less? Well, it brings new meaning to the phrase ďdying from embarrassment.Ē

I had a colonoscopy a few years back around the time of my hysterectomy. The prep is sort of a nuisance but itís by no means beyond bearing. I had no trouble with the procedure at all. The potential to save a life is worth a little discomfort and inconvenience. Cancer and Death are so beyond inconvenientÖ

I also had a fecal occult test for blood in my 30ís. I received the test kit through a free cancer screening clinic and I regularly see such clinics being run where I live now too. I donít think it replaces regular colonoscopy for those of us who need them but it could be a way for those of us who are uninsured or under insured to increase our chances of early detection. Report
I was so glad to see this posted as colon cancer, if caught early, is very treatable. A colonoscopy can be scary but it is not as bad as going through cancer. The preparation I had early this year was just a glass of liquid and then I had to drink water. This was much easier than what I had ten years ago. Report
I'm 45 years old with a family history of colon cancer. My father and paternal grandfather died from colon cancer. I went to my doctor complaining about a chanage in bowel habits and was blaming them on oral medication for diabetes, and a colonoscopy was recommended. I'm very thankful that I followed through with the recommendation. There were 7 polyps found of which 1 was pre-cancerous, 3 were the kind that would become cancerous, and the other 3 were the non-cancerous type. I will have another colonoscopy in 3 years and we will see what happends after that procedure. The inconvenience of the preparation is worth it. Report
My good friend's mom (who is only in her 40's) just got diagnosed with colon cancer. I don't know how severe her cancer is, but I know my friend mentioned that her mom has been very sick lately. It is friend is only 19, an only child, and her dad is not a part of her life. Please, please stay healthy and get regular checkups. I know that sometimes you can't (no matter what you do) prevent illnesses and injuries, but there are many, many times when you can. Report
I had my colonoscopy done last year. Not due for another 10 years.
I recommend it getting done. Report
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