Doctor checkup

The Arizona Department of Health Services is spreading the word about the importance of colorectal cancer screenings for people over the age of 50 through a health program.

The organization’s FIT at Fifty HealthCheck Program screens nearly 1,500 low-income patients per year by providing a fecal immunochemical test (FIT) and colonoscopies for those who qualify. FIT at Fifty Health Check Program qualifications include: patients must be 50 years old or older and an Arizona resident; they must not have underwent a colonoscopy in the past 10 years or a FIT in the past year; they must not have ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, or genetic syndromes such as familial adenomatous polyposis or hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer; and they are uninsured.

Virginia Warren, office chief for cancer prevention and control at Arizona Department of Health Services, said many people in Arizona are diagnosed with colorectal cancer at a late stage.

“Typical screening age is 50 years old, but screening is only to be applied to people who have no symptoms,” she said. “If you have symptoms of colorectal cancer, you need to get screened or diagnosed when symptoms arise. If you are 34 and you’re having alternating diarrhea and constipation or blood in your stool, you absolutely need to go to the doctor and get screened for colon cancer.”

According to WebMD, symptoms of colorectal cancer include pain in the stomach, blood in the stool or very dark stool, a change in bowel habits with more frequent stools or bowels that aren’t emptying completely, fatigue, and, in rare cases, unexplained weight loss.

Warren said nearly 60 percent of patients who are under the age of 50 are diagnosed at late stage.

“If they go to get screened when symptoms initially appear, that won’t be the case,” she said. “No one should get screened at late stage anymore; it reduces your quality of life and it reduces your chances of survival. Getting diagnosed early is the best scenario if you’re going to get colon cancer.”

Family history also comes into play when getting screened, Warren said.

“If you have a mother, father, sister or brother who has had colorectal cancer, you should be screened 10 years earlier than when they were diagnosed,” she said. “You need to know your family history so you can take steps to take care of yourself.”

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services director’s blog, colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in Arizona, with nearly half of patients being diagnosed during the late stages, which makes it difficult to treat.

For more information about the FIT at Fifty HealthCheck Program, visit www.azdhs.gov/hsd/healthcheck/fit50/eligibility.htm.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or dochoa@ahwatukee.com.

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