Many people are uncomfortable talking about the common problem of hemorrhoids, and so when we start to have some pain or problems “down there,” many might assume it’s a simple inflammation that can be treated in the privacy of one’s home with an over-the-counter medication. But when those treatments fail, it could be time to visit your doctor.
“The most definitive way to know if a worrisome symptom is caused by hemorrhoids, colitis, or cancer is to have a thorough exam by an expert in the treatment of colorectal diseases; they may recommend a colonoscopy to clarify the cause,” says Janice Rafferty, MD, a UC Health colon and rectal surgeon.
According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third-most common type of cancer in the United States. Although it is a highly preventable cancer with the aid of screenings like colonoscopy, only one in three adults age 59 – 75 reported having received colorectal cancer testing in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Discussing changes in bowel habits or stool consistency can be embarrassing, and most people would prefer to self-diagnose rather than have an exam of such a private area,” says Dr. Rafferty, who is also a professor in the Department of Surgery and director of the Division of Colon and Rectal Surgery at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. “It’s completely understandable, but can be a dangerous approach to a common problem.”
For West Chester Hospital patient Paul Black, a routine colonoscopy revealed a frightening reality. After experiencing some bleeding and other symptoms, Black scheduled a screening, during which a tumor was discovered.
“I count it as a blessing that the cancer was caught early; it was localized in the colon and hadn’t spread,” says Black. “Dr. Rafferty was able to remove the tumor. I recovered quickly and was back to work about three weeks later – my family and I are amazed.”
The vast majority of cancers that originate in the lining of the colon and rectum begin as polyps – benign collections of tissue that degenerate into cancer over time. If the polyps are removed, the risk of cancer from that polyp is gone.
“Talk to your doctor about any bleeding with bowel movements, or persistent change in bowel habits. Don’t be embarrassed,” says Dr. Rafferty. “Additionally, it only makes sense that what we put in our mouths affects the lining of our intestinal tract. So, try to make healthy food choices – low fat, high fiber, plenty of fluids, fresh fruits and vegetables are known to aid in cancer prevention.”
To receive the name of a gastroenterologist or colorectal surgeon at West Chester Hospital, please call (513) 298-DOCS (3627).