Early colorectal cancer often has no symptoms, which is why screening is so important. Approximately 4.6 percent of men (1 in 22) and 4.2 percent of women (1 in 24) will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in their lifetime.
Some of the factors that increase risk are age, sex, and race/ethnicity. Aside from age and race, many of the known risk factors for colorectal cancer are behaviors traditionally associated with high-income countries such as sedentary lifestyles, Western diet, and smoking. Non modifiable factors that increase the risk are related to hereditary and medical history, including a personal or family history of colorectal cancer of adenomatous polyps and a personal history of chronic inflammatory bowel disease.
There are multiple screening tests available for colon cancer. For people of average risk, most doctors recommend a stool test every year, a stool DNA test every 3 years, and a colonoscopy every 10 years. Although colonoscopy is an invasive test, it is especially effective at detecting colon cancer. Plus polyps and lesions can be removed during the test.
Let’s ponder that idea for a moment. What if your mammogram or prostate exam actually prevented cancer? You would be absolutely certain to schedule it as often as it was recommended. That is the case with the colonoscopy. During the procedure, your doctor can actually remove the polyps that sometimes turn into cancer.
This method of treatment is so effective that if the majority of people in the United States age 50 or older were screened regularly for colorectal cancer, the death rate from this disease could plummet by up to 70 percent. This means that you can greatly reduce your own chances of getting colorectal cancer by getting screened, you can encourage those you love to get screened, which will help them reduce their chances of getting colorectal cancer also.
Insurers understand how powerful colonoscopies are. They cover them, because they work. It’s far better business to pay for one colonoscopy every 10 years than for 10 years for colorectal cancer treatment. For those who are insured, your colonoscopy is probably free. Note, if a polyp is removed, your insurance may cover it differently than a screening.
The doctors and nurses make the experience of having a colonoscopy as comfortable as possible. You can choose from a number of different anesthesia methods based on your own comfort level and insurance coverage.
Talk to your doctor about your personal and family history and when you should have your colonoscopy. Then schedule it, prepare for it as directed, and walk into your colonoscopy appointment knowing that you are making great use of your time and effort.
Adnan Sohail, MD, is a gastroenterologist with the Multispecialty Practice at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. In addition, Dr. Sohail performs colonoscopies with SVMC’s Endoscopy department