If you've already turned 50 or if you're approaching this milestone birthday, add a colonoscopy to your "to-do" list. It could save your life. Five reasons why this might be the best decision you make this year, according to Alexander Lee, MD, an HonorHealth gastroenterologist, are:
1. Early detection is key
The earlier colon cancer is caught, the better your chances for a favorable outcome. The U.S. Prevention Task Force recommends an initial screening colonoscopy at age 50 and every 10 years thereafter until age 75-80. A colonoscopy is the only way to take a complete look at your colon and to remove any polyps — abnormal tissue growths that could be pre-cancerous.
2. The prep has improved!
Most people now find the prep tolerable. You start with a clear diet, and the infamous jug of prep fluid can be split into two portions, rather than downing it at one time.
3. It will be over before you know it
You may be at the hospital or surgery center for about two hours total, and only 20-30 minutes of that time will be procedure time. You'll be comfortably sedated, similar to taking a nap from which you'll awaken alert and refreshed. The majority of patients won't need another colonoscopy for the next 10 years.
4. If you're experiencing symptoms, a colonoscopy is the fastest way to a diagnosis
Any symptoms such as rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, a change in bowel habits, or unexplained weight loss should be taken seriously, regardless of your age. These symptoms could indicate a significant gastrointestinal problem, including colon cancer. They could also be related to colon cancer. If that's the case, it's best to find it and treat it right away.
5. High-risk individuals should be especially diligent about screening for colon cancer
If you have a family history of colon cancer, have previously had polyps removed or have a personal history of colon cancer or chronic inflammatory bowel disease.
6. Lifestyle factors that put you at a higher risk
Have lifestyle factors that put you at a higher risk such as smoking or eating a high fat/low fiber diet, it's even more important to have a colonoscopy.
Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in the U.S. and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths. Prevention and early detection are the best ways to change these statistics.
To put it simply: Colorectal cancer screening saves lives. There are several options for colon cancer screening, but colonoscopy is still considered the gold standard, and the only one that can treat and diagnose at the same time is colonoscopy.
"During the past five years, more screenings have resulted in a decreased death rate from colon cancer," Dr. Lee noted. "When the cancer is detected early, people live longer. The best test is the one that gets done, so I encourage all 50- year-olds to book that colonoscopy today."