As the month of March reaches the halfway mark, how many of you have taken this opportunity to schedule a colonoscopy? My guess is not as many as there should be. Of all the major cancers, colorectal cancer screening procedures are probably some of the most feared and avoided - and misunderstood.
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States and the third most common cancer in men and in women. It is estimated that more than 141,000 Americans will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2011, and approximately 49,000 will die from the disease.
The good news is that colorectal cancer rates have been steadily decreasing over the last 20 years, and that is thanks to improved screening and early detection methods. Colorectal cancer is actually one of the most highly treatable cancers when it's found early. That's because most of these cancers start out as small, non-cancerous growths known as polyps. Early testing can find and detect these polyps, allowing them to be removed before they turn cancerous. Simply put, you can stop cancer before it starts.
There are several tests for colorectal cancer, with the most common being stool tests and colonoscopies. A colonoscopy is a procedure in which a thin, lighted tube is inserted into the rectum to allow the doctor to view the inner lining of the colon. Preparing for the test is more inconvenient than the procedure itself. In fact, people who are having a colonoscopy are given medicine to help them relax; many people sleep through the exam.
Both men and women, beginning at age 50, should have a colonoscopy once every 10 years, and perhaps more often if there is a history of colorectal cancer in their family. I strongly urge you to talk with your doctor or health care professional about which colorectal cancer screening procedure is right for you. Don't let a little discomfort get in the way of saving your life.
-Ed Partridge, M.D.