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Check for colon cancer before symptoms show



DEAR DR. DONOHUE: What are the symptoms of colon cancer? Are there any? — B.P.

ANSWER: The colon is about 5 feet long. It begins in the lower-right side of the abdomen, ascends on the right to just below the liver, crosses over the abdomen to the left side and then descends to the rectum.

Symptoms of colon cancer depend where the cancer is located. Cancers on the right side often cause open sores that bleed. Since it takes a while for undigested food to reach the rectum from the right side of the colon, the blood often is seen as tarry, black stool. Cancers of the section of colon that spans the upper part of the abdomen from the right to the left sides can cause obstruction of the bowel. Cancers of the left side of the colon, the most common site for colon cancer, can lead to narrow stools, cause stomach cramps and discharge bright-red blood into the stool. Weight loss is a sign of colon cancer, regardless of its site.

Don’t wait for symptoms to check for colon cancer. This cancer has a number of excellent screening tests, and it can be detected early, when it’s treatable and curable. Everyone at age 50 should have a colonoscopic exam, a scope exam of the colon. The examining doctor sees every inch of the colon and spots any cancer or any polyps, the precursors of colon cancer. X-rays called double-contrast barium enemas are another way of detecting colon cancer.

The booklet on colon cancer deals with its detection and treatment. Readers can order a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue — No. 505W, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Canada with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have a serious problem. I say “serious” because I have had a doctor laugh at me for asking the following question, for which, incidentally, I paid $25. For about six years, I can hear my heartbeat loudly in my left ear. No one can tell me why. I hear it 24/7. I am about to lose my sanity. I pray you can help. — D.M.

ANSWER: Lots of people hear their heartbeat in one or both ears. The condition is called pulsatile tinnitus. One of the biggest causes for it is artery hardening, something that comes with age. Blood flowing through less flexible arteries near the ear becomes noisy. People hear their own heartbeat.

Caffeinated beverages make the beating louder. Put a radio at your bedside and tune it to soothing music at night. The music can often muffle the heartbeat sound. If music doesn’t work, then turn the radio to a location where you hear static. Static often gets rid of the heartbeat noise. Sometimes changing the head position abolishes the beating sound.

A few rare conditions produce pulsatile tinnitus — a narrowed neck artery, an artery-vein malformation, a damaged aortic heart valve and high blood pressure are examples. I would guess these conditions would have been discovered in the six years you have had the problem.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

©2009 North America Synd.

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