March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. In 2012, there were approximately 103,000 people diagnosed with colon cancer and approximately 51,000 people died from colon cancer in the United States. The good news is people are living longer, and there are more colon cancer survivors than ever before, mostly due to early screenings like colonoscopies.
The American Cancer Society recommends individuals begin screening for colon cancer at age 50 and even younger if you have a family history of colon or other cancers. One of the best screening tests for colon cancer is a colonoscopy.
Many people fear colonoscopies or don’t understand what a colonoscopy is. A colonoscopy is an exam that uses a small camera to allow a physician to see inside the colon and rectum. The exam is usually done with special medication to make the patient sleepy. Most patients experience no discomfort and wake up not even remembering the exam.
Many individuals are concerned about the preparation before the test. With most preparations, you drink a special solution that causes you to have frequent bowel movement to empty your colon. The cleaner your colon is, the better your doctor can see and determine if you have a healthy colon or if there are any polyps or areas of concern.
Almost all colorectal cancers are believed to arise from adenomatous polyps, which are small growths in the colon that grow over time and possibly turn into cancer. The number of adenomatous polyps increases with age (30 percent in 50 year olds, 40 percent in 60 year olds, and 50 percent in 70 year olds). According to Nathan Slinde, MD, a board-certified gastroenterologist with Agnesian HealthCare, finding these polyps and removing them can help prevent colorectal cancer. In patients without symptoms, finding cancer at the time of a screening colonoscopy results in early detection and treatment with high cure rates.
Waiting for symptoms to develop (change in bowel habits, rectal bleeding, weight loss, etc.) too often results in cancer detection at more advanced and difficult to treat stage.
If you have a family history of cancer, or are over the age of 50 and have never had a screening colonoscopy, call your doctor to set up a screening appointment.