By Randolph Reister, MD
March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month. I know: You don’t want to talk about it.
Here’s why you should. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer among American adults, and a leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. Most people who get it have no warning signs in early stages, when it’s easiest to treat.
The good news is, a simple test saves lives. Colonoscopy is a routine procedure that should be part of every adult’s health screenings.
Here’s why everyone 50 and older should have a colonoscopy: One in 20 adults will get colorectal cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. About 50,000 people die from it every year.
Most colorectal cancers develop first as colorectal polyps, which are abnormal growths inside the colon or rectum that may later become cancerous. Polyps can be found by screening and can be removed before they turn into cancer. A colonoscopy is the best way to see and treat polyps before they become cancerous.
But only about 50% percent of adults who should have a colonoscopy get one. And more than 60% percent of Americans 50 or older haven’t had any screening for colo-rectal cancer. I know: You don’t want to.
Colonoscopy is a routine, out-patient procedure. If you haven’t had one, here’s what to expect:
· You do a preparation routine at home the day before your appointment.
· Your doctor and one nurse in the room with you. The doctor examines the inside of the rectum and entire colon using a long, flexible lighted tube called a colonoscope.
· If polyps are detected, the doctor likely will remove them for further study
· The procedure takes 20-40 minutes. You’ll spend about two hours from the time you arrive until you head home. (You will be sedated during the procedure; ask a friend or family member to drive you home.)
· You’ll get your results that day, and any additional pathology results within a week.
· Your negative colonoscopy is good for 10 years, if your results are clear and you have no family history.
Northfield Hospital & Clinic’s new Surgery Center makes it convenient and comfortable to get screened, with colonoscopy specialists, new procedure rooms, and a family-friendly waiting area.
Everyone should have a colonoscopy at age 50. If you have family history – that is, a parent or sibling with colon cancer or pre-cancerous polyps – talk to your doctor about earlier screening. Colon cancer runs in families. You should talk with your parents and siblings about their own history, even if it’s awkward.
Family history is the No. 1 risk factor for colon cancer. Other risk factors are obesity; smoking; high-fat diet; and drinking alcohol.
Usually during the early stages of colorectal cancer, there are no symptoms. You should see your doctor if you have bright red or very dark stools; a change in the diameter of your stool; persistent stomach ache, abdominal pain or cramping; unexplained weight loss; or anemia.
Embarrassed? You won’t die of embarrassment, but you can die of colon cancer.
Dr. Randolph Reister is an endoscopy specialist and a board-certified Internal Medicine physician at Northfield Hospital & Clinics. Reach the Surgery Center at Northfield Hospital at (507) 646-6000.