09 Mar March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month: Are You Due for a Colonoscopy?
By: Michael Diaz, MD
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer – excluding skin cancers – diagnosed in both men and women in the U.S. It is also the third leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women. And while most colon cancer cases occur in people 50 and older, the disease can happen to men and women at any age.
The good news is that regular screenings can not only find colon cancer early – making the disease much easier to treat – but can even help prevent colon cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, you should begin colon cancer screenings at age 45. Those at higher than average risk may need to begin screening prior to age 45, and more frequently and/or with specific tests.
High risk groups include those with:
- A personal history or strong family history of colorectal cancer or certain types of polyps (growths in the inner lining of the rectum or colon which can turn cancerous)
- A personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, or history of radiation to the abdomen or pelvic area to treat a prior cancer and
- A known family history of hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome.
Colonoscopies are an essential component of our fight against colorectal cancers. Most colorectal cancers begin as polyps. The simple procedure of a colonoscopy not only helps us detect the disease early, but it also allows us to find and remove colorectal polyps before they turn cancerous. The benefits can be life-saving.
While not all polyps become cancerous, those that do usually take many years to do so, and colorectal cancer may not show symptoms in the early stages – making regular screenings all the more critical to protecting yourself against the disease. And getting a colonoscopy might be easier than you think.
It’s an easier procedure than many patients realize. The procedure usually takes about 30 minutes, during which time any polyps found will be removed, with tissue samples sent for a biopsy. Prior to your screening, your provider will likely give you pain medication and a sedative to ease discomfort.
When colon cancer does exhibit symptoms, they can include:
- Blood in the stool (which may make the stool look dark) or in the toilet after a bowel movement;
- Rectal bleeding with bright red blood;
- Change in your bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation or a narrowing of your stool, that lasts for more than a few days;
- Cramping or abdominal pain;
- Weakness and fatigue; and
- Unintentional weight loss.
While these symptoms can also be indicative of other health conditions, your provider can help you get to the root of the issue and determine the underlying cause. You can also take additional steps to aid in prevention of colorectal and many other forms of cancer, including daily exercise, a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting your alcohol intake and eliminating smoking.
If you have specific questions about colonoscopies, or your digestive health, you may contact HighPoint Gastroenterology and Liver Disease at 615.822.9805.