Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men and women in the United States. This year, approximately 50,000 people will die from the disease. The good news? Colon cancer is one of the most preventable and treatable forms of cancer, if found early. This is why, in 2000, March was officially dedicated as National Colon Cancer Awareness Month.
It only takes a simple test. Starting at age 50, everyone should be screened. Only 2 in 3 adults take this advice, though. If everyone scheduled their colonoscopy at age 50, roughly 60% of deaths from colon cancer could be avoided. Why, then are so many people hesitant? There are many excuses that patients give and many unfounded fears related to a colonoscopy. Some fear they will be diagnosed with cancer. Some fear pain or discomfort, but a vast majority of patients don’t experience either due to sedatives and pain medications.
So what does a colonoscopy actually do? A colonoscopy exam is one that allows the gastroenterologist to examine the rectum and the entire colon. An endoscope is gently eased inside the colon, allowing the gastroenterologist to see all areas of the colon. The doctor is looking for polyps. Small polyps, over time, eventually turn into cancer. The entire exam takes only about thirty minutes and patients are usually given medicine to help them relax or sleep during the procedure.
Most adults can wait until age 50 to start routine screening. However, tests should be done earlier and possibly more frequently for those at higher risk, such as people with inflammatory bowel disease, a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, or African Americans. You should check with your gastroenterologist to discuss your risk factors. And no matter what your age, pay attention to symptoms! Never ignore blood in your stool or a change in bowel habits. Schedule your screening today and let’s knock colon cancer out of the top killers in America.