Photo from Centers for Disease Control
As you approach your senior years you will be told to get a colonoscopy, the dreaded test that no one likes. March is colorectal cancer awareness month and time to remind everyone of the importance of this procedure. It is not so much the test itself that people dread, but the preparation for the test. You devote an entire day to drinking “prep” and running to the commode. The next day you have the procedure. Luckily, you sleep through it. Your reward is a meal when you wake up. Life is good.
Many people avoid colonoscopies because they hear horror stories from friends and family members. The prep made them sick or they had so much diarrhea that they became dehydrated. Then they were so weak it was all they could do to walk to the procedure room. You are stuck with a clear liquid diet the day before while everyone around you is eating pizza and burgers. A day of hell. Is there a way around the agony?
It is a Pain in the …
No pun intended, but it is a pain in the rear, in more ways than one. But a colonoscopy has unique features that other procedures do not have. There are very few procedures where the entire organ is visualized, in this case, the colon, and a tumor is removed, all at the same time. In a way, you get 2 for 1. You are screened and the cancer is removed in the same procedure (if the tumor is small). Even if it is a polyp, which may not be cancer, it is still removed so it does not become cancer later on. 2 for 1. What a deal. Why is this important?
Colon cancer is the third leading cause of death in men and women combined. There are no symptoms early on. Once you start to have rectal bleeding or abdominal pain, the cancer has generally spread. Cancers are always easier to cure if found early. Early colon cancer almost always bleeds, but only in small amounts that you can’t see. Simple tests that look for hidden blood in the stool is an early screening measure that should be done yearly. Most people are familiar with the Hemoccult slides. You place a sample of stool inside the slide then return it to your doctor’s office for testing. If it shows blood, you may need a colonoscopy to find out where the bleeding is coming from.
It is ok in some instances to do the newer tests that check for abnormal DNA in the stool, also a sign of cancer. But, if positive, you still need a colonoscopy to find the abnormality. There are other tests that can be done such as swallowing the camera. None work near as well as the colonoscopy.
Need More Convincing?
Screening is recommended for everyone in the 50 -75 age range. Some need earlier screening if they have family members who had colon cancer, or have a genetic disease that makes them prone to get cancer, or if they have a chronic bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis. The good news is that the word has gotten out and more people are getting screened. And, it is showing positive results. Just in the 50-54 age group alone the number of people getting a colonoscopy increased from 14% in the year 2000 to 41% by 2013, a significant jump. It is estimated that if people continue following the screening recommendations, we will see 37,200 colon cancer deaths prevented by the year 2030. That is a lot of people who will not die from colon cancer.
It is possible to beat colon cancer if caught early. The next time you are told “It’s time for your colonoscopy” don’t think about the inconvenience, dreading the prep, or taking two days out of your life. Think about the small sacrifice you pay for such a great deal. 2 for 1.
American Cancer Society. Colorectal Cancer Screening Tests. Early Detection, Diagnosis, and Staging. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/screening-tests-used.html
Centers for Disease Control. What are The Risk Factors for Colorectal Cancer? Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/colorectal/basic_info/risk_factors.htm
Centers for Disease Control. Screen for Life: National Colorectal Cancer Action Campaign. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/colorectal/sfl/index.htm
Wiley Online Library. Colorectal Cancer Statistics 2017. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.3322/caac.21395