Over 50? Colonoscopies are a Necessary Procedure
Although a colonoscopy is recommended for all men and women starting at age 50 and every 10 years after that, over half of Americans are not receiving their colorectal screening. Are you one of them?
As reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2009) “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.” With a quick and easy procedure called a colonoscopy, you can decrease your chances of getting colorectal cancer. A colonoscopy will screen for ulcers, colon polyps, tumors, and areas of inflammation or bleeding. If screening reveals a problem, diagnosis and treatment can occur more quickly.
A colonoscopy is done by a physician, usually a gastroenterologist (a doctor whose specialty is the digestive tract) or a surgeon. The patient is sedated so that no pain is felt throughout the procedure. The physician will insert a long, flexible, lighted tube into the rectum and slowly guide it along into the colon. The scope transmits an image of the inside of the colon, so the colon can be examined through video imaging.
As with most medical tests, complications are possible with this procedure. Some can be serious — for instance, bleeding, and puncture of the colon — but they are uncommon. Every patient is monitored closely for these complications.
How serious your risk depends on several factors including: age, family history, medical history, lifestyle choices, and ethnic background. A person at average risk is one who is age 50 or over with no other personal or family risk factors. Increased risk includes those with previous colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps and/or family history of colorectal cancer or polyps. High risk individuals may have inherited lynch syndrome, inherited familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP). Lifestyle risks include obesity, smoking, heavy alcohol use, lack of exercise, diets high in fat and/or red or processed meat, few fruits and vegetables, and low levels of vitamin D from direct sunlight. The National Cancer Institute states that individuals with higher levels of vitamin D had lower rates of colon cancer. African Americans have an increased risk for colorectal cancer and a higher risk of dying from it. As a result the American College of Gastroenterology recommends that screening for African Americans begin at age 45.
Although colorectal cancer may be present without any symptoms whatsoever, some symptoms that people may experience include a change in bowel habits (constipation or diarrhea that lasts more than a couple of weeks), stools that are bright red or very dark or that look narrower or thinner than normal, abdominal discomfort including frequent gas pains, bloating, fullness, or cramps, weight loss with no known explanation, and constant tiredness or fatigue.
If you are over the age of 50, have any of the symptoms, or are considered at high risk, get your colonoscopy!