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Taboo Cancers: Prompt Screening of Symptoms Could Save Your Life

By HERWriter
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The biggest danger for you if you’re afflicted with anal, rectal or colon cancer is not admitting you might have any of them. If you observe blood in your stools, weight loss, abdominal pain, anal itching, bloating, cramping, recurrent diarrhea, constipation or other changes in the bowels, you may wish to confirm its source with a doctor. Probably more than one.

Anal and rectal cancers are distinct conditions, The New York Times explained. Both are affecting the U.S. population in alarming ways lately.

A recent study conducted by the American Cancer Society concludes that colorectal cancer rates for people born around 1990 are now twice as high as those born in 1950, and rectal cancer rates for them are quadruple the rate of those in the older group, The Washington Post reported.

CBS medical reporter Dr. Max Gomez identifies colorectal cancer as the second most lethal of cancer strains in the United States behind lung cancer, killing an estimated 50,000 people this year.

“If you have any symptoms, if you’re bleeding at all, if your stomach is hurting, if something is not going right, if you’re not feeling 100 percent, don’t just go to one doctor and take their word for it,” said 33-year-old mother Chaya Biskin-Sitko.

Biskin-Sitko learned that she had cancer after giving birth to her third child, CBS reported. Each pregnancy was more painful than the previous.

These cancers frequently get misdiagnosed as hemorrhoids, iron-deficiency anemias from heavy menstruation. or other conditions, according to The New York Times. “Doctors typically don’t consider the diagnosis at such a young age,” the Times reported.

One of the consequences of this is that “young people with colorectal cancer run the added risk of getting a diagnosis later in the course of their disease.” Delayed treatment of malignant growths reduces the chances of survival and raises the likelihood they will spread to other organs like the liver or lungs.

Then there’s the taboo.

Dr. Mark Pochapin, director of gastroenterology at NYU Langone Medical Center, noted that “a lot of young people are embarrassed to talk about these things.”

Colonoscopies are the most common screening procedure for colorectal cancer, but these are often problematic due their invasive nature, their frequent need for patient sedation and risk of leading to complications.

They are by no means the only option, though. The physician-prescribed Cologuard test enables patients to send stool samples to labs for analysis, The Post reported.

“Colon cancer is one of the most treatable cancers if it’s found early,” Colon Cancer Coalition executive director Anne Carlson told The New York Times.

Many experts in the field remain skeptical about the implications of the recent findings. The rate of colorectal cancer for the nation overall is actually declining. This is largely due to the expansion of screenings like colonoscopies. Ninety percent of all such cancer cases still occur only in people over 50 years of age, The Times reported.

The study is, however, leading other practitioners to reconsider routine screenings for people under the age of 50, which they previously had not recommended.

They can’t account with certainty for the causes behind the spike, although obesity, sedentary lifestyles, heavy alcohol use, smoking, insufficient fiber consumption and diets heavy in red or processed meat appear to be associated with it.

Diets rich in fruits, vegetables, fiber and other nutrients – as well as life choices like lots of exercise and quitting smoking – could spare you the sight of oddly-hued stools and a subsequent diagnosis later.

The taboo surrounding anal cancer is more pronounced because of its association with the human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted infection, Newsweek reported.

Healio stated that most of anal cancer’s underlying risk factors distinguish it from colon and rectal cancer. Anal cancer’s risk factors include higher numbers of sexual partners, receptive anal intercourse, and STD positivity. But in over 90 percent of all cases, HPV is the cause.

Doctors vary in their screening practices for cancer, which suggests that it’s important to consult with more than one physician. It also shares similar symptoms with colorectal cancers.

EmpowHER contributor Susan Cody outlined these as “bleeding, itching, discharge, pain, lumps, changes in bowel movements.” However, Cody noted that the cancer can also remain symptomless.

Anal cancer is still rare, according to Healio. Out-of-date estimates from 2008 place its worldwide incidence at 27,000 cases. However, the rate in the United States doubled from 2003 to 2013, likely on account of a corresponding rise in HPV infection.

An HPV vaccine with an exemplary record for recipient safety and a strong long-term efficacy of at least 10 years is available, The Huffington Post reported.

Now recommended for preteens of both genders, the preventative treatment often founders due to some people’s fears that its administration will encourage promiscuity. Newsweek cited a recent study demonstrating that most families are uncomfortable about discussing the option, a phenomenon that continues to baffle clinicians.

Dr. Joel Palefsky, director of the Anal Neoplasia Clinic at the University of California, asserts that all clinical evidence contradicts these fears and that, beyond this, they reflect disordered priorities.

“What [parents] should be worried about is their child getting cancer,” he said. “It’s a no-brainer.”

He concluded that many doctors who shy away from recommending the vaccine to patients aren’t doing their jobs.

Rabin, Roni Caryn. "What Young People Need to Know About Colon Cancer."


McGinley, Laura. “Colorectal cancer rates rising sharply among Gen X and millennials.”


CBS New York. “Health Experts Alarmed By Spike In Colon, Rectal Cancer Rates Among Millennials.”


Rabin, Roni Caryn. “Colon and Rectal Cancers Rising in Young People.”


Swartz, Aimee. “No One Will Talk About Anal Cancer.”


Southall, Jennifer. “‘Surging burden’ of anal cancer requires more investigation, education.”


Cody, Susan. “A hard topic for so many to talk about : anal cancer.”


Todak, Alexandra.  Incidence of anal cancer rising worldwide.”


Miles, Brett A., DDS, MD. “What EVERYONE Needs To Know About HPV (Human Papillomavirus) And Vaccination.”

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.