Is your body trying to tell you something is wrong?

Colon cancer expert urges people not to ignore symptoms

DETROIT - Stephanie King knew at some point, she would have to have a colonoscopy.

"I was nervous about going to get a colonoscopy done," King said.

In spite of those nerves, King didn't hesitate to get the test at the first sign that something wasn't right.

"I started having stomach pains, and one day I just stayed in bed all day with really bad stomach pains, and I couldn't eat anything, and then I started throwing up," King said.

A colonoscopy revealed a large tumor that, if it wasn't removed right away, would have led to a difficult cancer battle.

"It would have spread to her lymph nodes and possibly to other organs, and she was literally just one stage away from needing chemotherapy," said Dr. Christopher Dwyer, a colon and rectal surgery specialist.

Dwyer said that unlike King, many patients wait too long after the first sign of symptoms.

He said that's part of the reason why colon cancer rates among people between the ages of 25 and 50 are on the rise.

"It's not that we should start screening earlier," Dwyer said. "We should start listening to our bodies and getting the word out to primary care physicians, as well as to the patients themselves."

The list of potential colon cancer symptoms and warning signs is lengthy. Any change in bowel habits is a red flag, and that can include diarrhea, constipation, narrow stools or other changes.

Often-overlooked symptoms include cramps, abdominal pain and unexplained weight loss. Patients can experience rectal bleeding, blood in their stool, frequent gas pains or bloating.

Internal bleeding can also cause anemia, fatigue or shortness of breath.

In the earliest stages, colon cancer often causes no symptoms, so that's what makes getting screened so important. During a colonoscopy, doctors can even prevent cancer by removing precancerous polyps.

If you don't have a family history of cancer, 45 is the recommended age for a colonoscopy for African Americans, and it's age 50 for everyone else.

If you do have a family history of cancer, you need to start screening sooner, and your doctor can help determine when.

There are other screening tests available, so don't let fear of a colonoscopy stop you from seeking help if you have symptoms. The sooner a problem is found, the easier it generally is to treat.

King is grateful that she listened to her body. After surgery, she's cancer-free.

"I'm so thankful and happy that I did go ahead and get the procedure done," King said. "I have my beautiful grandbaby Aniyah. She's eight months old, and we love her to death and I'm just happy that I will be here to help my son and his wife continue to take care of her. I'm so, so happy and thankful."

For more information on colorectal cancer, click here.

To learn more about Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, click here.

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