If You’re Age 50 or Older, Don’t Forego this Test that Can Prevent Cancer and Save Your Life
SIOUX FALLS (April 1, 2012) – Colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable of all types of cancer, yet only about half of people who fall within recommended screening guidelines take advantage of a lifesaving test that’s only needed once every 10 years.
This year, there will be approximately 147,000 new cases of colorectal cancer, and 50,000 deaths. For both men and women, colorectal cancer is the third leading cancer, and the third leading cause of cancer deaths.
“Colon cancer is unique, because among cancers it is one that is largely preventable,” said Dr. Christopher Hurley, gastroenterologist with Avera Medical Group Gastroenterology. Most colon cancers grow from adenomatous polyps which develop into cancer over a period of 10 to 15 years.
Various screening tests exist for colorectal cancer, but doctors most often recommend colonoscopy. It gives physicians the best view of the inside of the entire colon, so they can see any suspicious spots. What’s more, they can remove any colon polyps they see at the same time. For most people age 50 and over, colonoscopy only needs to take place once every decade, and in most cases it can prevent colorectal cancer before it ever begins. About 25 percent of men and 20 percent of women who are screened do have non-cancerous polyps growing in the colon. If polyps are detected, screening is recommended every three to five years.
“If we remove polyps during that window of time when it’s a precancerous condition, the potential for cancer can be virtually eliminated,” Dr. Hurley said. Colonoscopy is also effective at catching colorectal cancer at its earliest stages.
Colon screening is recommended to begin at age 50 – 10 years before the risk of colon cancer peaks at age 60, said Dr. Cristina Hill Jensen, gastroenterologist with Avera Medical Group Gastroenterology.
If you have a first-degree relative who was diagnosed with colorectal cancer – a mother, father, brother or sister – then screening should begin 10 years earlier than the age of that relative when the cancer was diagnosed. “For some people, screening might be advisable as early as their 20s or 30s,” Dr. Hurley said.
Colonoscopy is safe and effective when performed by a medical professional who has specific training and experience, yet many people avoid it due to fear of embarrassment, pain or discomfort.
Dr. Hill Jensen said patients are sedated for the actual test. Although they are conscious, they usually don’t feel anything or remember anything. “Many people wake up after the procedure is over, and wonder when we’re going to get started,” she said. It’s important to schedule the test on a day off, or after your work is done for the day, because you cannot drive or go back to work the same day due to the sedation medication. Patients usually stay about two hours from arrival to departure, although the actual procedure takes about 15 minutes.
Most people say the worst part of the test is the colon prep the day before, which involves drinking one-half to one gallon of fluid in order to purge the colon.
Often, no physician’s referral for colonoscopy is necessary for people who meet screening guidelines. “We’re trying to make screening as open and accessible as we possibly can, so more people will take advantage of it,” Dr. Hill Jensen said. “Our goal is to stamp out colon cancer, and regular screenings are the best way to do this.”
For more information about colorectal cancer, colonoscopy and other health topics, go to www.AveraMcKennan.org and click on Health Information.