By Melanie Orencia, MD (St. Francis Hospital, Federal Way)
If you were told that you could prevent a potentially fatal cancer by getting one test every 10 years, would you do it?
A colorectal screening, which is used to identify and remove abnormal growths in the colon and rectum before they develop into cancer, does just that. But when it comes to this gold-standard screening, many men and women procrastinate.
Cancers of the colon and rectum, often collectively referred to as colorectal cancer, are life-threatening tumors that develop in the large intestine. These are among the more preventable types of cancer. Still, about 143,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and about 50,000 people die from the disease, every year. Men have a slightly higher risk than women for developing these cancers.
A colonoscopy involves viewing the entire colon using a long, flexible lighted scope. If abnormal growths (called polyps) are discovered, they can often be removed during the procedure.
Another bit of good news is that a colonoscopy is easier than you might think. You can choose to be sedated before the test so that you are relaxed during the procedure. Most patients who are sedated don’t remember anything about the test. The procedure, which is not painful, lasts only 15 to 20 minutes. Most patients go home the same day as their procedure.
The U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends men and women begin regular colonoscopies at age 50. However, you may need to get tested at an earlier age if you have had polyps or colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, or if there is a history of polyps or colon cancer in your family. Talk with your doctor.
If polyps are discovered during your colonoscopy, you may need to be screened more frequently than every 10 years. However, most individuals require testing for this condition only every decade.
The best way to prevent colorectal cancer is to engage in a healthy lifestyle. Exercising regularly and maintaining a diet low in meat and high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains may help reduce the risk for colon cancer. Do not smoke. Do not drink alcohol in excess. It is also important to have regular colorectal cancer screenings. If you have not had a colonoscopy, talk with your primary care physician or other professional health care provider about this potentially lifesaving procedure.
Melanie Orencia, MD, is a primary care physician with the Franciscan Medical Group, which is affiliated with St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way. Learn more: (888) 825-3227.