There are many forms of cancer; many of which are life threatening. Colon cancer; a common and preventable one, affects both men and women and with screening, early detection can save your life. Healthy living looks at the options available to detect the disease.

Dr. Mark Musa, Gastroenterologist

“It’s the second leading cause of cancer related death, it is equally found in both men and women and it tends to occur after the age of fifty.”

Marleni Cuellar, Reporting

Mark Musa

Though it may not be as commonly discussed as breast or cervical or even prostate cancers, Colon cancer as pointed out by Gastroenterologist Dr Mark Musa is a very common form of cancer. It is a cancer that forms in the large intestine, an area called the colon, and is also referred to as colorectal cancer. It usually begins with small growth or polyps that develop on the lining of the colon.

Dr. Mark Musa

“In terms of an exact cause, there is no one cause. It’s thought to be a combination of environmental and genetic factors; one of the theories is that after the age of fifty. We tend to form polyps in the inside on the lining of the colon and it usually takes about ten years before these polyps can become cancer. One of the problems is at that stage either the poly of the cancer it might not cause any symptoms; and that’s why the importance of cancer screening comes in.”

The major risk factor for this type of cancer is age. According to Dr Musa as much as ninety percent of colon cancer occurs in people over fifty; but other risk factors include family history and some unique diseases. This type of cancer has no early warning signs. The only symptoms that are outwardly visible occur at a later phase of the condition. These would include Blood in the stool, unexplained low blood count, and change in regular bowel habit.

Dr. Mark Musa

“There’s quite a wide spectrum as to what is considered normal. Two to three times a day or once every three days as long as you’re comfortable going to the toilet, you’re not straining you’re not injuring yourself things like that. But it is the change that is important, if you have always from you’re a teenager gone once every three days then you notice that as u get older you’re now going three to four times a day and the consistency has changed becoming more loose, mucus, or slime or blood, then those are things to get checked out.”

But Dr. Musa’s advice is for people to not wait until this phase. Blood whether it is found in the stool or a low blood count is already a red flag symptom. He urges that people to get screened for colon cancer before exhibiting symptoms; as early detection can save your life.

Dr. Mark Musa

“There is a direct link to the stage of when you find colon cancer in terms of how well you do with treatment. If you find colon cancer at stage one you have a ninety percent, five year survival. If you unfortunately find it at stage four that’s stage four meaning it has gone outside the colon into other organs, the survival rate at five years is only ten percent.”

The most common screening tests are a colonoscopy or a stool test. He explains the pros & cons of both methods.

Dr. Mark Musa

“The best test for the colon is a colonoscopy which a long camera that si passed through the anus into the large intestine and that actually looks at the lining of the inside of the colon where problems tend to start. Other test like cat scans, ultrasounds aren’t as accurate or as effective. With colonoscopy the benefit is that it is more accurate. It is you…take biopsy of worrying tissue…to confirm if it is cancerous, drawbacks is costs and availability. Some may find the procedure invasive, even intrusive. But we try and make it as comfortable and private.”

Other option do the stool test is done every year and if blood is found in the stool then the colonoscopy is done as follow up.

Dr. Mark Musa

“The benefits of a stool test is that is cheap is that it’s widely available. But it has a high miss rate. So that is the balance you have to do. It is better you get screened either one than o screening at all.”

In terms of cost, the colonoscopy is the more expensive screening method but if the results are clear, then it would only need to be conducted once every ten years. The stool tests, where as cheaper would have to be conducted yearly. With approximately two to three cases of colon cancer diagnosed a month by Dr. Musa, he sees screening as the best way to go.

Dr. Mark Musa

“What you’re finding is that when they develop symptoms we’re finding it at a later stage. The long term benefit with a screening program is that hopefully the problem will be detecting early and treatment is not as risky as when it found at a later stage.”

Both screening tests are available in Belize.

Channel 5