In Maine’s total population, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of new cancer cases and deaths. In 2011, 650 Mainers were diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and approximately 260 died from this disease.
The term “cancer” describes a group of diseases characterized by the unneeded growth and multiplication of abnormal, or damaged, cells.
Every cell in a person’s body has its own life cycle. Each cell will grow, divide, and die when it becomes old or damaged. These cells are then replaced with new cells and the cycle continues. This is the body’s way of keeping itself healthy. However, sometimes a cell becomes so damaged that it does not die when it should, and this controlled pattern is broken. These damaged cells continue to grow and multiply at their own rate even though the body does not need them. This is how a tumor is formed. Not all tumors are harmful, but some tumors can spread to nearby tissues and even other organs. These tumors are known as malignant, or cancerous, tumors.
Your colon is the long, tube-like organ (also known as the large intestine) that helps your body digest food. A healthy colon takes the water out of the food you eat, and leaves a solid waste that your body gets rid of through the rectum and anus. If you could stretch out the colon, it would be about 6 feet long. Cancers are named for the part of the body in which they start to grow. Colon cancer is a cancer that grows in the colon. This kind of cancer starts as a polyp, or small collection of abnormal cells. Polyps do not cause any symptoms for a person.
Regular screening is the key to preventing colorectal cancer and there are three screening tests available. The most common way to be screened for colon cancer is an exam called a colonoscopy, an exam in which a doctor looks inside the colon with a long, flexible and lighted tube. During a colonoscopy, polyps can be found and removed before they turn into cancer.
Another screening option is a blood stool test. You receive a test kit from your health care provider. At home, you use a stick or brush to obtain a small amount of stool. You may be asked to do this for several bowel movements in a row. You return the test to the doctor or a lab, where stool samples are checked for blood. This test must be repeated every year and is not appropriate for everyone.
A less common screening option is a flexible sigmoidoscopy. During the test, the doctor puts a short, thin, flexible, lighted tube into the rectum. This tube allows the doctor to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and lower third of the colon.
Most people begin getting screened for colon cancer when they turn 50 years old. However, if you have a personal or family history of colon health problems, you might need to be screened sooner. If you are near age 50 and have never been screened for colon cancer, you should talk to your doctor about which screening option would be best for you.
New Health Insurance Opportunities:
There is a new way to obtain health insurance beginning January 1, 2014 through the Affordable Care Act called the Health Insurance Marketplace at Healthcare.gov. You can call 24 hours a day toll-free at 1-800-318-2596 and hearing impaired callers using TTY/TDD technology can dial 1-855-889-4325 for assistance. You can hear more about open enrollment, insurance options available, preventive/wellness benefits, and insurance costs. in addition, by entering your zip code or town at LocalHelp.Healthcare.gov you can find personal help applying for health coverage.
Becky Pearce, Comprehensive Health Planner II
11 State House Station
Key Plaza, 5th Floor
Augusta, ME 04333
[back to top] Updated February 27, 2018