The recent observance of Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month reminds us that being proactive is critically important. Nationally, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in men and women, and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
In 2010, 131,607 people in the United States were diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Of those, 52,045 people died from it. But what if I told you that we could save tens of thousands of those who die from colorectal cancer every year?
Colorectal cancer is a slow-moving disease, with pre-cancerous polyps developing into cancer over several years. We always encourage people to undergo colorectal cancer screening because over the last 20 years we’ve been able to show how effective screening is in reducing long-term effects of this type of cancer.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends colorectal cancer screening for men and women aged 50-75. We recommend at age 50 that you undergo a colonoscopy. If nothing is found and you have no family history of colon cancer, we recommend that you see us for screening again in about 10 years. If a polyp is found, we follow up appropriately and then recommend another screening in three years, and then every five years after that.
For those with a family history of colorectal cancer, we do recommend starting earlier, about age 40. If a member of your family was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, we would ask what age they were diagnosed and then screen you at 10 years younger than that age. So if your mother or father was diagnosed with colorectal cancer at age 55, we would encourage you to first be screened at age 45.
Colonoscopy is our screening of choice when it comes to preventing colorectal cancer because studies show it’s effective. If we don’t find anything, that’s good news. If we do find a polyp during a colonoscopy, we can usually remove it during that same test. Once we remove that polyp, we’ve removed your risk of it giving you colorectal cancer.
Other tests are available to screen for colorectal cancer, but if something is found a colonoscopy would still be the next step, so using colonoscopy as the primary screening is preferable. If a health issue means a colonoscopy isn’t best for you, we’ll still find a way to screen you, so don’t let that stop you from taking preventive steps.
Colonoscopy itself is not a difficult process. It does require a prep solution that will flush things out of your lower gastrointestinal tract. Many people say it’s inconvenient, but that’s preferable to dealing with more serious problems down the road, isn’t it?
At Owensboro Health Gastroenterology & Hepatology, we also provide anesthesia services for all the patients who undergo colonoscopy, rather than just sedating our patients. This is something that distinguishes us from the majority of gastroenterologists around the country, only about one-third of whom use anesthesia for colonoscopies.
The reason we do this is simple: It’s better because it’s more comfortable and safer for the patient. From start of anesthesia to end of procedure, a colonoscopy takes about 30 minutes. Once it’s over, our patients wake up and we talk to them about their results.
Getting set up for a colonoscopy is also easy. You can call us yourself, or talk to your primary care physician. You don’t even need to actually have an office visit with your doctor. Just call them and tell them you want to be screened and they’ll call us and refer you. It’s that simple, and afterward we will also forward your test results back to them.
Share this information with your family and friends. A 30-minute procedure could save your life or the life of someone you love.