Hidden cancer: watching for symptoms of colorectal cancer

LEXINGTON, SC (WIS) - Sometimes the scariest things are the things we cannot see. That rings true for cancer, too.

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month – and doctors at Lexington Medical Center want you to have the tools to know when you need to speak up. Because when it comes to the time we spend in the bathroom, most of us are too embarrassed to talk about it. That includes 46-year-old Joanne Fasnacht. That is, until speaking up saved her life.

"I had the chance in my bowels, the mucous," Fasnacht said. "I'm typically the person who ignores my symptoms. I don't like to go to the doctor. The blood – that was the one thing that made me say, 'Yup, I probably need to do something.'"

Fasnacht was diagnosed with stage 3 colorectal cancer in June 2017. She'd been having odd symptoms, including rectal bleeding and urgency to use the restroom, as well as irregularities for months.

"You just don't expect that when you think about colon or rectal cancer," Fasnacht said. "You think about men in their 60's… older people. You don't think about [a] 46-year-old woman having Colorectal Cancer."

Dr. Samir Shah is a colorectal surgeon with Lexington Surgical Associates at Lexington Medical Center.

"Most of the patients that are diagnosed with colorectal cancer under the age of 50, they're more likely to be at stage 3 or stage 4 than someone who is 55 or 65 that gets their screenings starting at 50 and routinely," Shah said.

According to Shah, patients under the age of 50 are seeing increasing rates of colorectal diagnoses. Colon cancer diagnoses are up 2 % each year, while rectal cancer is up 4% per year in patients under 50 years old.

But, most people don't get colonoscopies until they're 50 years old. It's why if you are having symptoms, Fasnacht says you have to speak up. There's nothing embarrassing about kicking cancer to the curb.

"Being fearful talking to a doctor is the last fear you should have," Fasnacht said. "I want to live. There's too much in life to cherish. [There are] too many things for me to still see for me to just let back and let it defeat there's no way I was gonna let it defeat me."

The American Cancer Society recommends getting screenings starting at age 50. But, if you're at increased or high risk for colorectal cancer, your doctor may suggest getting those screenings earlier.

If you're exhibiting any odd or irregular symptoms, go talk to your doctor right away.

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