‘Aggressive’ colon cancer a cause for concern

- routine screenings encouraged

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By Vishani Ragobeer

After feeling unwell for a number of months in 2018, Chandrawattie Samaroo, who was 51 years old at the time, decided to visit her physician. Upon telling the physician that she always felt tired and experienced stomach and headaches, he decided to run a few tests.

It was found that the woman has a low blood count but, Samaroo said that instead of giving her tablets, the physician encouraged her to undergo a colonoscopy and an endoscopy. These medical procedures are used to examine an individual’s colon and digestive tract.

“The endoscopy came back okay but they found a tumor in the colon,” Samaroo told the News Room in an interview on Wednesday.

That tumor, Samaroo later understood, meant that she had colon cancer. Fortunately, she managed to detect it while it was still only in the second stage of development and as such, she was better positioned to remove it.

Chandrawattie Samaroo (Photo: News Room/ June 30, 2021)

In January 2019 she was able to surgically remove the mass of cells (the tumor) and engage in chemotherapy at the Georgetown Public Hospital (GPH). Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy cancer cells.

Since then, Samaroo has been recovering well. Colon cancer is one of the many diseases that can affect individuals but it is usually recorded in people older than 50 years, local medical oncologist, Dr. Latoya Gooding said on Wednesday.

“Basically, colon cancer can start anywhere in the digestive tract that is below the stomach and ends in the rectum,” Dr. Gooding explained.

Poor eating habits such as consuming red meat and not enough fruits and vegetables, coupled with other factors such as smoking, lack of exercise and poor bowel habits, can result in the development of this cancer.

Despite being the seventh most prevalent cancer in Guyana, Dr. Gooding emphasised that colon cancer has proven to be “very, very aggressive” with a high mortality rate.

Medical Oncologist, Dr. Latoya Gooding (Photo: News Room/ June 30, 2021)

And, what is also worrying is that this type of cancer is being recorded among younger people. She gave the example of a 37-year-old man who grappled with aggressive colon cancer before he succumbed.

Exacerbating this, is that the cancer is not easily diagnosed since, unlike other cancers, a doctor cannot simply press certain parts of the body and feel for abnormalities.

“One of the things we ask people to look out for is like if you’re having constant constipation alternating with diarrhea or start passing blood in the stool, or irregular shaped stools, those are all things you can look out for,” Dr. Gooding explained.

And, the oncologist emphasised that the cancer is treatable with surgery and chemotherapy- as evidenced by Samaroo.

In Samaroo’s case, her early detection allowed doctors to extract the cancerous cells and treat her with chemotherapy. She, however, had to adopt certain lifestyle changes such as consuming less red meat, sugary and fatty food and also eating more fruits and vegetables.

“With lifestyle changes, support and a positive mindset and believing in God too you can overcome it,” Samaroo related.

Meanwhile, Dr. Gooding has made an appeal for every person, aged 50 years or older, to have routine colonoscopies- regardless of whether they show symptoms.

Screening services for colon cancer and other types of cancers are offered at the oncology department of the Georgetown Public Hospital.

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