We’ve all procrastinated before but putting off a simple task to finish at a later time is not usually a life or death decision. However, delaying a colon cancer screening most definitely could be.
March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and it’s an important time to raise awareness about this preventable disease.
Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States. It’s expected to cause about 51,020 deaths in 2019. The average risk is 1 in 22 for men and 1 in 24 for women. However, if you have a first degree family member (mother, father, sister or brother) with colon cancer, that risk can double or even triple.
When should I start getting screened?
The American Cancer Society recommends that people at average risk of colon cancer start regular screenings at 45 and continue them through the age of 75. For people ages 76 through 85, the decision to be screened should be based on a person’s preferences, life expectancy, overall health and prior screening history.
For those who have family members with colon cancer, screening should start 10 years before the index case (family member) was diagnosed, which could result in the need to begin screenings before 45 years old.
Why are colonoscopies important?
A colonoscopy, the primary colon cancer screening procedure, is painless, though it gets a bad rap. Why? Because, admittedly, the preparation to achieve a clean colon can be unpleasant. The prep involves drinking a prescribed liquid to clean out your colon over a 12-hour period.
During the actual procedure, the patient is asleep and feels nothing. If precancerous lesions are found, they are removed, thereby reducing a patient’s colon cancer risk. So while the prep is no picnic, it is much more preferable to a potential cancer diagnosis.
Colonoscopies have been proved in large population studies to prevent colon cancer and also to allow discovery of colon cancers at much earlier stages.
Screening in seemingly “healthy” or asymptomatic patients is important because colon cancer, especially in the right side of the colon, can grow quite large with absolutely NO symptoms. The larger or more advanced the cancer, the worse the outcome and the more intensive therapy needed to preserve life.
Colonoscopies should be done every 10 years, unless your physician suggests more frequent screenings.
Are there other screening options?
Another screening option is a highly sensitive stool-based test known as the fecal immunochemical test (FIT). This is an annual screening taken at home that tests for hidden blood in the stool, which can be an early sign of colon cancer.
FIT only detects blood from the lower intestines. You should discuss with your physician about which colon cancer screening is right for you.
Though prevention strategies are not usually considered much fun, they are insignificant compared to colon cancer treatment.
Unfortunately, we know that only approximately one third of the people who should be screened are getting screened. So, make the decision for prevention! You’ll be glad you did.
Is it time for your screening? Call 1-866-846-3550 to schedule your colonoscopy with an Ochsner physician today.