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When it Comes to Colon Cancer, Knowledge is Power

If you’re 45 or over, it’s time to get screened for colorectal cancer

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. According to the American Cancer Society, the colon cancer death rate in this country could be cut by more than half if Americans simply followed recommended screening guidelines. 

Early detection and treatment are critical. If caught early, colorectal cancer is 90% curable. If precancerous polyps are found during screening, the disease is often altogether preventable. Because colorectal cancer can develop with no signs or symptoms, a colonoscopy could serve as a life-saving test.

New guidelines: Get screened between ages 45 and 50.

Men and women are affected equally by colorectal cancer. For patients of average risk with no family history, it’s now recommended that colon cancer screenings begin between the age of 45 and 50 depending on your risk factors and ethnicity*, with follow-up screenings every five to 10 years, even for people who feel perfectly healthy. If you have a family history of cancer, are experiencing pain or bleeding, or a previous screening revealed polyps, your doctor may recommend that you be screened earlier or more frequently.

A colonoscopy isn’t as hard as you think.

There’s no need to feel embarrassed or ashamed during a colonoscopy. It’s your doctor’s job to perform these lifesaving screenings, and every effort is made to help patients feel comfortable during this procedure. 

• You’ll be asked to follow a clear liquid diet the day before your procedure. This means only water, clear broth, soda, tea, coffee (without milk/creamer), clear juice (without pulp), Jell-O, popsicles and other flavored drinks (not purple or red). 

• You’ll be given instructions on using a laxative mixture to empty your bowel so that your colon can be viewed clearly during the procedure.

• During the colonoscopy, your doctor will look at the inner lining of your large intestine (which includes your rectum and colon). A thin, flexible tube called a colonoscope is inserted while you’re sedated or under anesthesia.

• Most patients have very little awareness that the procedure is taking place. You’re done within an hour. 

A colonoscopy is the most effective way to prevent, detect and diagnose colon cancer. Along with functioning as a screening test to check for cancer or precancerous polyps in the colon or rectum, a colonoscopy can also help find ulcers, tumors and areas of inflammation or bleeding. It’s important to be screened for colon cancer even if you’re not currently experiencing pain or bleeding.  

Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors

Even if you have no family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, you’re at increased risk if: 

• You’re overweight

• You’re physically inactive

• You smoke and/or excessively consume alcohol

• You eat a lot of red meat 

• You have diagnosed or undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes

• You have inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis

Although some guidelines have lowered the screening age to 45 (and sometimes age 40), some insurances may not cover the screening until age 50.

Vishwas Vanar, MD, is a board-certified and fellowship-trained gastroenterologist and hepatologist with AdventHealth Medical Group in Apopka. His areas of expertise include advanced GI screening and treatment procedures, including video capsule endoscopy, esophageal manometry, impedance pH monitoring, single balloon enteroscopy, radiofrequency ablation for Barrett’s esophagus, and chronic liver disease. For more information or to schedule an appointment, visit GetScreenedToday.com or call 407-609-7395.

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