Colonoscopy: a means to a good end
Colonoscopy is one of those words that evokes a chorus of bemoaning and grumbling about one of life’s more dreaded necessities. For some people, it ranks right up there with public speaking, one of the top five fears of Americans. But would fearing a colonoscopy make you avoid having one?
The colonoscopy screen helps find polyps, which if ignored, can in time develop into cancer in the colon or rectum. Called colorectal cancer, it’s the second leading cancer killer in the U.S. The good news is that it doesn’t have to end that way. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) predicts that at least 60% of deaths from colorectal cancer could be avoided if everyone over the age of 50 had regular screenings.
So why would one-third of people over the age 50 still not have a colonoscopy? Fear of the unknown? Dread of a procedure that everyone complains about? Rather silly when one considers that the colonoscopy can find those dangerous polyps before they turn into cancer, don’t you think?
As most people who’ve had a colonoscopy will tell you, the prep is far worse than the procedure. And a day or two of discomfort “prepping” is a small and harmless inconvenience compared to what the results can bring you.
Everyone 50 and older should have a colonoscopy screening. The frequency of the test going forward will depend on your results and risk factors. And risk factors may necessitate screenings to start before age 50. Those at high risk for colorectal cancer may include people with inflammatory bowel disease, a genetic syndrome of familial polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer, or a close relative who has had colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer.
Not everyone with polyps or colorectal cancer has symptoms. But if there are symptoms, they may include blood in or on the stool; aches, cramps or pains in the stomach that don’t go away; or loss of weight for no reason. Such symptoms should be reported to one’s doctor. A variety of screening tests are available in addition to the colonoscopy. Stool test, sigmoidoscopy, and barium enemas are sometimes initially elected by the doctor to explore causes of symptoms.
The key is staying on top of symptoms and screenings. If you’re 50 or older, do it! The benefits far outweigh the fears.