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Anemia Can Signal Colon Cancer

By January 10, 2011

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Iron deficiency anemia can be a problem for women of childbearing age and children. For women, blood losses that occur during menstruation can result in iron-deficiency anemia. Pregnancy and breast feeding can further deplete iron in women.

Children are at risk for anemia because many begin life with low iron as infants. Over time, many kids don't get enough iron in their diets to meet their needs either. Iron deficiency is the result

Not At Risk Means Iron Deficiency A Red Flag

For healthy men and post-menopausal women, the risk of iron deficiency anemia is very low. In fact, iron deficiency anemia is so uncommon in men and older women that when it does occur, it is a big red flag something may be wrong. And it's a red flag you shouldn't ignore.

Low Iron Can Point to Colorectal Cancer

A new study on iron deficiency anemia and colon cancer points to a problem during medical care and follow up. Researchers considered 628,882 patients, 40 years of age or older, who were screened for iron deficiency anemia as part of routine medical care. They found that 3.1%, or 19,349 patients, had iron deficiency anemia. Here's where things get interesting.

Three percent of the patients with iron deficiency anemia, or 578 people, were later found to have colon cancer. But how long it took to get to a diagnosis of colon cancer varied widely in the group.

In the patients later found to have colon cancer as a cause of iron deficiency anemia, the time to diagnosis ranged from 2.5 to 31.9 months! That means some people received a diagnosis of colon cancer within a couple of months of finding out they had anemia. For others, it took nearly three years to get a colon cancer diagnosis! The biggest determinant of how long it took to get a colon cancer diagnosis was the type of health care specialist a person saw for follow up.

Be Your Own Health Advocate

This study took place in Great Britain, which has a different system of health care than the United States. This means that if this study were conducted here the results may be somewhat different.

However, it is quite likely that there would be delays in colon cancer diagnosis stateside too. It's even possible that the diagnosis would take longer here, given how fractured our system of health care is and the confusion many people have over what their insurance will and won't cover in terms of medical tests.

All of this points to something important: We all need to be our own health advocates. If you receive any type of test for which the results aren't completely normal, you need to make sure you follow up with your health care provider. Don't take no for an answer.

Ask your doctor to help you carefully and systematically rule out all of the things that may be causing anemia, or any other condition or abnormal blood tests you receive.

January 20, 2011 at 10:59 am
(1) M says:

I had a complete hysterectomy when I was 38 and was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer at age 53. Every year for ~ 10 years prior to my diagnosis, I went to my doctor complaining of tiredness, and blood work always showed I was anemic. Every year I was told to eat more red meat, take iron pills, eat more broccoli – he even said I was depressed and offered antidepressants. I showed no symptoms of CC until about the last 6 months before it was discovered. I actually went into the hospital for heart attack symptoms because I had lost so much blood through my colon (I received 4 units when I was admitted) and the nurses couldn’t believe I could actually walk under my own power. So I would say absolutely if you’re tested and constantly diagnosed with “unexplained anemia” – GET A COLONOSCOPY IMMEDIATELY!

January 20, 2011 at 11:12 pm
(2) coloncancer says:

Hi M,
Thank you for sharing your story. I am certain it will motivate others to push their doctors about unexplained symptoms. That can save lives.
Colon Cancer Guide Suzanne

January 22, 2011 at 3:17 pm
(3) me says:

what do you do when you know you are sick with narrow bowels, swollen lymph nodes that pulsate, anemic, blood in stools, and no insurance what do you do? i just trust GOD and pray things change but im so scared

January 26, 2011 at 3:29 pm
(4) coloncancer says:

Hello Me,
I encourage you to contact your local branch of the American Cancer Society. Ask them about free or low-cost cancer screening in your area. If you are found to have cancer, ask to be referred to a social worker who can help you locate and enroll in cancer care that will be covered by medicaid or medicare. These services typically are offered free or low cost.

I worked in a cancer center for many years and we had many people with no insurance who were treated in our clinics. Often, they had been eligible for free or low-cost medical insurance, such as medicaid, but didn’t know this. The social work team or a financial counselor helped them fill out and submit necessary paperwork to get the insurance coverage they needed.

It’s important to seek out whatever financial support that is available to you that will help you get the cancer care that you need. Many people are embarrassed to do this, but there is no shame in getting the medical care you need. There’s no need to feel badly if you need to take advantage of financial assistance programs. Millions of people in this country have no insurance. You are not alone in this. Take care of yourself.
Colon Cancer Guide Suzanne

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