Why you shouldn't avoid getting a colonoscopy

Colorectal cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer deaths in the United States. Yet a high percentage of colorectal cancer could be avoided if people over the age of 50 had a simple screening test called a colonoscopy.

Colorectal cancer usually starts as small benign growths called polyps. Finding and removing small polyps early can actually prevent colorectal cancer. If cancer is already present, finding the cancer early makes the chance for a cure much higher.

Everyone is at some risk for colorectal cancer. It affects men and women equally. In early stages of colorectal cancer, there are often no symptoms, so regular screening is important. Colorectal cancer is most curable when it is found BEFORE it causes symptoms. The primary risk factor is age. More than 90 percent of colorectal cancer cases are in people over the age of 50. That’s why everyone should be screened at 50 if they haven’t already done so.

You are at Higher Risk and May Need Sreening Earlier If:

  • You or someone in your family has had colorectal cancer or polyps
  • You have inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis)
  • You have a history of endometrial, ovarian or breast cancer

When Symptoms Do Occur, They Might Include:

  • A change in bowel habits
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool (bright red or very dark)
  • Abdominal (stomach) cramps or frequent gas pains or bloating
  • Unexplained weight loss or fatigue

It’s important to remember that the above may be symptomatic of colorectal cancer, but these same symptoms can be caused by other medical conditions as well.

Preventive Screening Recommendations:

Men and women age 50 and older should be screened for Colorectal cancer:

  • Colonoscopy is the preferred test. The test looks inside the colon and finds both polyps and cancer. Polyps can be removed during the test which can prevent cancer from forming. If normal, this test is done every 10 years.
  • Other tests for screening are available and you may discuss these options with your provider. If anything is found with these tests a colonoscopy will need to be done.

Those identified at higher risk for colorectal cancer, or with a family history of the disease, may need to have these tests done earlier and more often. In addition to regular screenings, studies have shown that increasing physical activity, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining a healthy weight may decrease the risk for colorectal cancer.

There is no good reason to avoid a colonoscopy. Schedule yours today (and encourage your loved ones to do the same).

Meet the Author

Thomas Saphner, MD is a Medical Oncologist at Aurora Health Center in Two Rivers, Wisconsin.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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