One need only glance at the advertising pages of popular periodicals to realize that constipation is a universal complaint. It is spoken of as a distinct disorder. The medical profession itself is apt to consider it a separate ailment and treat it accordingly. For the relief of constipation, countless laxatives are prescribed or taken without prescription usually at the suggestion of an advertisement or a friend.
The fact that constipation is only a symptom of disorder and not a separate disease is flagrantly overlooked. Yet, by itself, it is only evidence of disturbance in much the same way as are the symptoms of pain, nausea, and itching.
A mere detail, you may think, but I assure you it is far more than that. It is an error to treat symptoms and omit a proper understanding of the causative factors at work.
“There are no unimportant details,” said the Emperor Napoleon to one of his generals who had so classified certain phases of a forthcoming campaign. Indeed, Napoleon knew full well that the failure of his opponents had more than once been caused by their underestimation of the importance of details.
I remember as a boy being witness to an accident that impressed upon me the need for regarding every detail in an enterprise as important. In those days fire engines were drawn by three powerful intelligent animals who snapped into their harness at the stroke of the gong. A man who had been greasing the axle of the fire truck neglected to tighten the bolt on the axle. As the gong sounded, the engine dashed out of the firehouse and the unimportant “detail” that had been overlooked worked loose. Farther down the street the wheel came off, sending the firemen and the horses into an accident which resulted in horrible injuries.
So, too, in the matter of health let us not be too ready to pass over what appear to be trifling ailments. What one among us has not heard of a neglected “mere scratch” developing into blood poisoning, “a mere cold” into pneumonia? Similarly “simple constipation” can end in colonic and rectal disturbances.
That this should follow is easy to understand. Just as the lake whose outlet is choked by weeds and salt becomes a stagnant offensive pool, so, the intestines become laden with filthy substances. These are irritant to the tissues of the colon itself and when absorbed are poisonous to the body in general.
Long-continued irritation of the delicate lining of the colon results in a chronic inflammation—colitis. At first Nature tries to protect the membrane by oversecreting mucus on the surface of the colon, in much the same manner that the throat of an excessive smoker becomes covered with a ropy covering of mucus. This condition is catarrh. When the process occurs in the colon it is known as “catarrhal colitis.”
For a long time this condition continues, and the person so affected will notice the excess of mucus in the bowel movements. Indeed, at times the bowel movements may be almost entirely mucus. This state of affairs continues for a variable length of time; but sooner or later, the bacteria, normally always present in the feces, gain a foothold in the walls of the colon. Here, as the process continues, the infection spreads, undermining the delicate lining, and ulceration starts. We then have a case of ulcerative colitis—a serious ailment that carries with it much misery and distress in the present and dire possibilities for the future.
Of all the dread diseases with which mankind is afflicted, certainly cancer is the most feared. The mystery of its cause and the misery it inflicts have made its very name strike terror into our hearts. Yet we can readily deprive this spectre of its worst terrors and actually do something to lay the ghost forever. We can do this by recognizing the fact that cancer is the result of another kind of disease—the deadly disease known as Delay.
Imagine, if you will, the very worst form of cancer. There was a time (during the first few months of its existence) when a cure was possible if proper treatment had been started. Was not, then, the delay which postponed the starting of treatment deadly in its effect? Knowing this, who can be so foolish as to lose valuable time, instead of immediately having an expert pass upon suspicious symptoms?
How am I to know, you ask, what conditions can be regarded as suspicious? Perhaps you will understand this better if I tell you some of the chief facts about cancer.
Away back in the first moment of the ailment, some portion of the lining of the colon or rectum became inflamed, as in the catarrhal colitis described above. This inflammation was allowed to linger either because it was improperly treated or was not treated at all. The area became chronically congested and thickened, and this interfered with the normal function of the bowel.
Since this function is to serve as a passageway for the bowel movement, one of the early symptoms noted was a persistent tendency toward constipation. The thickening of the bowel wall made it less elastic than normal, and the bowel movement irritated the area as it passed over it.
This irritation or abrasion became infected with some of the many bacteria that are always present in the intestine. The irritation then progressed to form small superficial ulcerations. In time, ulcers developed upon these spots, and further damage to this ulcerated area led, from time to time, to bleeding.
This was noted in the bowel movements, but the matter was dismissed as unimportant. It will now be recognized that the condition had become the serious, though still curable, ulcerative colitis.
About this time, in some manner quite unknown to us at present, the continually irritated tissues suddenly began to grow wild and to form tumor masses. As these grew, they in time almost filled the cavity of the bowel and thus made impossible any but watery bowel movements. Indeed, this alternate constipation and diarrhea is one of the truly suspicious symptoms of cancer of the rectum. Needless to say, as the tumor increases in size, the patient gradually loses color, weight, and strength and suffers much from sleeplessness and pain in the back.
Most people who have any intestinal or rectal trouble will, upon reading the foregoing, be almost certain that the worst has happened and that he or she has cancer. It is not fair to yourself, however, to make your own diagnosis. The only one properly qualified to give you an opinion on the subject is a doctor of medicine, preferably a specialist in intestinal diseases.
Regardless of whom you consult, bear in mind that the most important step in your interview with him is to obtain a thorough examination of the bowel. Mere examination of the rectum with a gloved finger is sadly insufficient and at least as bad as no examination at all. In order to be thorough, your examination should be made with instruments especially designed for such an examination. If skillfully done, and if the proper instruments are used, the examination is, as I have said before, absolutely painless.
For your own sake, therefore, do not consider casual conversation with the doctor as the equivalent of an examination. In short, do not let him soothe you into a false sense of security by saying that he does not think you have cancer. If he is really interested in your welfare, he can easily know by making the proper examination. The difference between “thinking” and “knowing” may mean your life.
The American Society for the Control of Cancer has set forth certain facts regarding cancer that I think will be of interest to you. It is the consensus of the Society that the condition is not contagious as diseases like scarlet fever and tuberculosis are. While cancer in itself does not appear to be hereditary, it is a fact that a tendency toward cancer formation may travel in families.
It is, therefore, highly important for anybody who is so unfortunate as to have some member of his family afflicted with cancer to take utmost heed of any warning symptoms. Indeed, most authorities are of the opinion that the present-day control of cancer depends upon the care people take of their body and its functions and particularly upon the promptness with which persons who have cancer bring it to the attention of a physician skilled enough to recognize it.
Though cancer any place in the body is a very serious problem, people affected with rectal cancer are more fortunate than many others, since it may be easily discovered in a very early stage. If these cases seek treatment promptly, their chances for a permanent cure are good. As a matter of fact, early treatment affords the only possibility of cure, since that cure depends upon discovering the growth before it has had the opportunity to spread to some vital organ of the body.
It is interesting to note that the experts comprising the committee for this Society have agreed that the most reliable form of treatment thus far justified by experience and observation depends upon surgery, radium, and the x-ray, when used in time. Cancer can be controlled by a campaign of public-health education that leads people to early treatment.
The long continued existence of obstinate constipation will not infrequently induce in the person afflicted the unshakable conviction that he actually has cancer of the colon. Thorough examination by means of instruments shows no such a condition. Extensive x-ray studies of the colon and even of the entire gastrointestinal tract are negative, yet the patient remains unconvinced. There lurks in his mind the suspicion that despite all these examinations, a cancerous growth is there and that is has escaped detection.
Happily there is now at our disposal a new test—a blood serum test which will convince him. In this test, somewhat similar to the well-known Wasserman test, a blood specimen is analyzed. In many cases where x-rays are negative and most other signs fail, this test shows an increase in a certain element of the blood serum known as globulin. A person showing a normal amount can feel reasonably sure that cancer does not exist.
While the method is not infallible when considered by itself, along with other checks it is reliable enough to warrant a sense of certainty which other tests do not. If, therefore, you remain in doubt, by all means have the test done and set your mind at rest. Anyone with a history of cancer in the family should have the test made.
Having been convinced at last that you are not a victim of this dread disease, you should double your efforts to rid yourself of the underlying condition, colitis, that has induced this unhappy frame of mind. Thus you will not let a comparatively simple, benign condition such as catarrhal colitis drift into the ulcerative stage. Bear in mind, chronic ulceration can and sometimes does proceed to cancerous degeneration.
No one knows how and when body cells run wild, but we do know it never starts from healthy tissue. It originates in tissues which have been the seat of the chronic irritation. Such a condition can exist in an ulcer of long standing.
A word to the wise is sufficient. Stop the progression of constipation toward colitis short of the point where this unfortunate situation may occur. Remember—cancer is all too often the malignant result of a neglected benign condition such as colitis. Colitis is curable! Written By: J. F. Montague, M.D., Continue Reading: Diarrhea—Colitis—Cancer