A Colonoscopy Can Save Your Life

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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.”

Risky Business

Factors that raise colon cancer risk

Factors that lower colon cancer risk

  • Diet high in fiber
  • Diet high in fruits and vegetables
  • Taking aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Regular exercise
  • Hormone replacement therapy in women

Some studies have shown that people who include folate (the synthetic form is folic acid) in their diet have lower rates of colon cancer. Some foods that are rich in folate are fortified cereals, black-eyed peas, kidney beans and spinach.

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.

Illustration of a polyp removal.

Illustration of a polyp removal.

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.

Colon cancer is preventable. Don’t wait if you are over 50. Call your doctor to set up a colonoscopy screening. If you need a physician referral, visit FindaDoc or call 443-481-5555.

Contributor

Newman_Naeem_fmtNaeem Newman, MD, is a surgical oncologist at AAMC Surgical Oncology.

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