BY Phyllis Mbanje
CASES of colon and other digestive cancers are on the rise in Zimbabwe to add to the prevalence of infection-related cancers. Over the past few years, cancers related to the digestive system have been on the rise with a few public figures succumbing to the disease.
The late former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and of recent Patson Dzamara succumbed to colon cancer also known as colorectal cancer complications.
On Tuesday this week, former Zanu PF Harare provincial commissar Shadreck Mashayamombe publicly disclosed that he had been diagnosed with the disease.
“Sad to tell you that I have been diagnosed with colon cancer; I advise all young men and women to go for routine colorectal cancer screening. Pray for me as I battle against this monster. I am starting a new journey in my life,” he tweeted.
According to the Cancer Association of Zimbabwe (CAZ), colorectal cancers are cancers that start in the colon or the rectum. They are largely linked to Westernised diets which are usually low in fibre and high in fat and calories.
Research in this area has had mixed results. Some studies have found an increased risk of colon cancer in people who eat diets high in red meat and processed meat which is linked to 20% of all colorectal cancers.
Physical inactivity also puts one at risk as well as those who are obese.
“Colon cancer is cancer of the large intestine (colon), which is the final part of your digestive tract,” said CAZ official Lovemore Makurirofa.
“Most cases of colon cancer begin as small, noncancerous (benign) clumps of cells called adenomatous polyps.
“Over time, some of these polyps can become colon cancers. Polyps may be small and produce few, if any, symptoms. But if these polyps are seen early, they can be removed to help prevent colon cancer.”
He explained that the colon absorbs water and salt from the remaining food matter after it goes through the small intestine (small bowel). The waste matter that’s left after going through the colon goes into the rectum, the final six inches of the digestive system. It is stored there until it passes out of the body.
Ring-shaped sphincter muscles around the anal hole keeps stool from coming out until they relax during bowel movement.
On screening, Makurirofa said doctors recommend certain screening tests for healthy people with no signs or symptoms in order to look for signs of colon cancer or noncancerous colon polyps.
“Finding colon cancer at its earliest stage provides the greatest chance for a cure. Screening has been shown to reduce risk of dying of colon cancer. People with an average risk of colon cancer can consider screening beginning at age 50,” Makurirofa said.
But people with an increased risk, he said, such as those with a family history of colon cancer, should consider screening sooner.
However, Zimbabwe is still lagging behind in recommended screening for people between 50 and 75 because this cancer wasn’t as common as it is now. It is also very expensive and not readily accessible.
Some of the tests require specialists, with one having to go through their general practitioners.
“Several screening tests can be used to find polyps or colorectal cancer. Several screening options exist, each with its own benefits and drawbacks. Talk about your options with your doctor, and together you can decide which tests are appropriate for you,” Makurirofa said.