DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have had diverticulitis for about two years. I have been fine until recently, when I have developed gas, bloating and irregular bowel movements. Does this condition turn cancerous or cause colon cancer? – B.J.

You have diverticulosis, not diverticulitis.

Diverticula are pea-sized pouches formed by the inner lining of the colon protruding through the colon wall. Thirty percent of those over 40 have diverticulosis, as do 50 percent of those over 70. Our refined diet gets much of the blame for the diverticulosis epidemic. In places where high-fiber diets are the rule, diverticulosis is rarely found.

Fiber keeps water in undigested food. The water, in turn, keeps the stool soft. The colon wall muscles must strain to push dried stool through its length. The strain generates pressure that, in turn, forces the colon lining through the colon wall to form a diverticulum.

In most instances, diverticulosis does not cause pain.

When diverticulosis becomes diverticulitis, then the story changes radically. Diverticulitis is painful and can cause bleeding. It’s inflammation of diverticula. The neck of the diverticulum becomes plugged, and bacteria multiply in the diverticulum, causing inflammation, swelling and pain.

Neither diverticulosis nor diverticulitis causes cancer.

I can’t tell you the cause of your present problem with gas, bloating and change in bowel movements. Such symptoms should not be ignored. Tell your family doctor what’s going on.

Information on diverticulosis and diverticulitis can be found in the pamphlet on those topics. Readers can obtain a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue – No. 502, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.50 U.S./$6.50 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I want to tell you that the bar of soap in bed works wonderfully for cramps. I have used it for more than 20 years. If a cramp starts, I just place the soap where the cramp is, and the cramp goes away. I am never without my bar of soap when I go to bed. – Anon.

Few topics have generated more mail than the bar-of-soap-in-bed treatment for leg cramps. All praised its effectiveness.

The only point where there is a difference of opinion is where to position the soap. Many put it under the bottom sheet near the legs. Others keep it by their side and, at the onset of a cramp, place it under the muscle that has a cramp in the making. One person relates that he wears sweat pants to bed and puts a soap bar in each pant leg.

I can’t offer an explanation, but I also can’t deny the testimonials of so many.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: What are the major symptoms of testicular and prostate cancers? Please answer in your column, as I have some funny sensations in my testicles. – S.L.

Neither testicular nor prostate cancer produces many, if any, symptoms in its early stages.

The presence of a testicular lump is one sign of testicular cancer. The lump is painless. A testicular lump ought to prompt a doctor’s examination. It might be nothing more than a harmless cyst, but the chance of cancer exists. In questionable cases, an ultrasound picture furnishes definite information.

Yearly exams of the prostate gland for nodules and yearly PSA blood tests are being adopted by more doctors as the way to detect early prostate cancer. Such exams should begin at age 50 for white men and at age 40 for men who have had close relatives with prostate cancer or who are black. These men are at greater risk for prostate cancer.

As the cancer enlarges, it can cause the same symptoms that a noncancerous enlarged gland causes: difficulty in emptying the bladder and frequent trips to the bathroom.

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.

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