Community Blog

Importance of Colorectal Cancer Screenings for Seniors

By Debbie Humphrey

I am a modest person, so talking about Colorectal Cancer Awareness is not something I am totally comfortable discussing. However, considering it is one of the leading causes of death in men and women in the United States, it is an awareness everyone over age 50 should recognize.

My maternal grandfather had colon cancer and a subsequent surgery resulted in him wearing a colostomy bag 24/7/365. I remember being a young girl and seeing the appendage attached with tubes to his abdomen. I have to say, it was pretty gross…and kind of scary. It is definitely something I’ll never forget.

Having this remembrance makes the subject easier to approach, because I learned first-hand the importance of regular colorectal screenings for seniors, especially knowing the hereditary factors in my family.

President Bill Clinton selected March to be Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in 2000, and since then more than a million people are considered survivors of this dreadful disease the American Cancer Society deems as “the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States.” Their estimates for new colorectal cancer cases in American men and women in 2019 exceed 137,000, the majority of which are expected to occur in individuals over the age of 45.

The Florida Department of Health defines colorectal cancer as a disease in the large intestine, or colon; and the rectum, which is the connective passage to the anus. Colorectal cancer occurs when polyps appear in these areas and go untreated. Polyps can take years to grow, which is one reason they are most readily found in people over the age of 50. However, colorectal cancer does not discriminate. Younger folks can also be diagnosed with the disease.

According to the Mayo Clinic, risk factors for colorectal cancer include age; a personal or family history of the disease; Irritable Bowel Syndrome and other inflammatory syndromes and maladies affecting the bowels; poor nutrition and diets high in fat, lacking fiber; a sedentary lifestyle; diabetes; obesity; smoking; and radiation therapy for cancer.

Sometimes there are no symptoms preceding the onset of polyps and the progression of colon cancer. However, there are symptoms about which you should be aware, including rectal bleeding or blood in the stool; abdominal pain and cramping; a change in the consistency of stool for a prolonged period of time; a feeling that the bowel will not quite empty all the way; weakness and fatigue; or an unexplained loss of weight.

The age group most likely to be diagnosed with, or treated for, colorectal cancer remains adults over the age of 50. It is recommended that everyone over the age of 50, be screened for colorectal cancer, especially if you have any of the risk factors listed above. It is best to discuss your particular risk factors with your primary care provider and follow their recommendations for colon cancer tests that can, potentially, save your life.

When a Colonoscopy or Colonography is warranted to screen for polyps and other abnormalities in the rectum and colon that can lead to colorectal cancer, the preparation process requires precise instructions be followed diligently in order to achieve the desired results.

It’s been my experience that seniors do not always follow the instructions like they should, especially if they live alone. I recommend a family member or caregiver ensure:

  1. No solid food is eaten the day before.
  2. 8 ounces of water are consumed each hour, as directed.
  3. The required magnesium citrate and over-the-counter laxatives are taken as directed for maximum cleansing of the bowels.
  4. No food or drinks are consumed after midnight the day of the procedure.

Also, because this process requires significant bathroom time, seniors with ambulatory issues will need assistance getting to and from the restroom, and on and off the commode. It is important to pay close attention to hygiene during this cleanse, as well, which can sometimes be problematic for seniors.

The scope itself is considered a surgery, because an anesthetist administers a potent sedative so the patient will sleep through the event. The colonoscopy only takes about 30 minutes, but it is crucial the patient is adequately prepared the day before, prior to the scheduled procedure.

Early detection is key to preventing and treating colorectal cancer. The process may not be pretty or fun, but it is a necessity. If I can help by providing a compassionate caregiver to assist with the process or transportation assistance to and from doctor appointments and medical procedures – like a Colonoscopy – I am happy to offer a FREE Consultation to discuss your specific needs, or those of your loved one, and outline all the ways we can help.

We, at Home Helpers® Clearwater, are honored to have received the Home Care Pulse – Best of Home Care® Provider of Choice Award for 2017, 2018 & 2019. We proudly serve male and female seniors in Clearwater, Dunedin, Palm Harbor, Safety Harbor, Tarpon Springs, Holiday, New Port Richey, Trinity, Port Richey, Hudson and surrounding areas. Home Helpers®…we are Making Life Easier℠  727.942.2539

Source:  American Cancer Society

               Florida Department of Health

               Mayo Clinic