Do you know your own colon cancer risk? We may joke that the big 5-0 is a milestone, but according to the American Cancer Society it’s also a major risk factor for colon cancer. Ninety percent of individuals who are diagnosed with colon cancer are over the age of 50. Where do you fit in?
According to a recent Surveillance Study on cancer statistics and diseases of the U.S. populations, it is estimated that more than 147,000 men and women (with men at a greater risk) will be diagnosed with cancer, and of those, almost 50,000 will die due to cancer of the colon and rectum. For all the men out there, don’t forget to get your PSA tests routinely as well.
Based on Lifetime Risk Studies and U.S mortality research through 2006, more than 6 percent of individuals will be diagnosed with cancer of the colon or rectum sometime in their life, or 1 in 19 people. I don’t know about you but these statistics are frightening.
In order to reduce your risks of having cancer symptoms, pain or having to endure suffering that could be caused by a delay in a diagnosis, early detection and prevention is always the best medicine. People over the age of 50 should have a colonoscopy at least every 10 years or more, if needed.
While personally having to undergo a variety of tests prior to age 50, my physician recommended I have a colonoscopy to rule out another condition. However, I must say at the time, I was not looking forward to this examination of my colon. It was the last thing I wanted to do after the numerous CAT scans, MRI’s, blood work and even a bone marrow biopsy, but after the fact, I was relieved that the test was negative and thus several diagnoses could be ruled out.
As an RN I have witnessed a number of these procedures and had the opportunity to look into the colonoscope, which is a flexible viewing tube with lenses and a small TV camera with a light on the end. Through high tech fiber-optics and a small computer chip, this remarkable instrument scans the inside of your colon while transmitting images to a video screen.
Please do not put off having this procedure for fear of discomfort. A colonoscopy is a routine, safe and effective procedure and it is not as uncomfortable as one may believe. Actually it is painless as you are sedated prior to the test, which is done in a special suite or an outpatient area of a hospital!
The procedure is the best way for healthcare providers to view the entire colon to see if there are any problems. It can diagnose gastrointestinal problems, complaints of frequent abdominal pain, or change in bowel habits. It is the best screening tool to detect colon or colorectal cancer. And if you have had additional risk factors, the procedure should be repeated more frequently.
Having a colonoscopy should begin earlier than age 50 in people with a high risk of colorectal cancer due to family history, chronic inflammatory bowel disease or other hereditary symptoms including polyps. It can also be used to identify the source of rectal bleeding or to confirm if you might have areas of colitis (inflammation of the colon).
If your physician is suspicious about an area during the colonoscopy, he/she can use an attachment placed at the end of the colonoscope to take a small tissue sample (biopsy) to be examined in a laboratory. If a polyp should be found, it is possible that a wire loop attachment would be used to remove the entire polyp so it can be sent for analysis.
In my experience most people are more concerned about the preparation prior to the procedure than the procedure itself. To help empty your bowel so the physician can have a clear view of the intestinal wall, you will be given specific instructions about using laxatives the day before the procedure. Today there are pills that can be used if you are not allergic to sodium phosphates. The manufactures are even trying to make it easier if you have to drink a solution by adding some flavor to the preparation.
Do something good for yourself, talk to you physician, family and friends and schedule a colonoscopy if you are 50 or over and have not had the procedure in the last ten years. It could literally save your life! Don’t delay, make your appointment now. . ..
Paula Camposano Robinson, RN, is co-founder and owner of Sanitasole Senior Health Services. This is an information-only column and is not intended to replace medical advice from a physician. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Sanitasole.net, for more information. Phone: 239.394.9931.