Colon cancer is the third most common form of cancer in the United States. It is also the second deadliest cancer that affects both men and women. However, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if everyone age 50 or older had regular screenings, up to 60 percent of colon cancer deaths could be prevented. In fact, many cases of colon cancer can be completely prevented through a simple screening exam called colonoscopy.
“Colon cancer is preventable through the removal of intestinal polyps, which have the potential to become cancerous,” says Surgical Oncologist Naeem Newman, MD. “This can be done during colonoscopy.”
Many people avoid colonoscopy due to their fears about the procedure or feelings of embarrassment, but it’s relatively simple and pain free. The day before the colonoscopy, you prepare your intestine by taking a prescribed laxative. The day of the procedure, you are sedated and the doctor inserts a thin flexible tube into the rectum. The tube contains a camera and a light that allows the doctor to examine the inner walls of the colon—all five feet of it—for polyps and other abnormal growths. If anything out of the ordinary is found, the doctor can remove the polyps, which are tested for cancer.
While 50 is the recommended age for a first colonoscopy, anyone with a first-degree family member (i.e., parent or sibling) who has had colon cancer should be checked sooner.
“There’s no valid reason for not getting a colonoscopy,” says Dr. Newman. If there are no concerning findings with your colonoscopy, you may not need another one for up to 10 years.