Flush Away Your Cancer Risk

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When it comes to screening tests, colonoscopies probably win as ‘least favorite’.

“Most patients avoid routine colonoscopies due to the nature of the test;” says David Beck, MD, Chairman of Colon and Rectal Surgery at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans. “However, we know that most patients have no symptoms until colon or rectal cancer has progressed, so screening is essential in the prevention and treatment of this disease.”

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., although, with the help of a colonoscopy every ten years, this disease can be prevented and is highly treatable.

“At age 50, men and women should have a screening colonoscopy; if nothing is found, another procedure isn’t likely for another 10 years,” Beck says.

Since colonoscopies are performed under light sedation or “twilight sleep,” there is no pain or remembrance. On the other hand, the at-home preparations are a bit more challenging. “Patients constantly express that the procedure was easy, it’s the preparations that took their toll. Luckily, it’s all in the privacy of your own home,” says Beck.

The goal of colonoscopy prep is to clean the colon completely so that the physician will have a clear view. The most common preparations include Golytely, Movieprep or Suprep. Basically, all of these involve drinking liquid mixed with medication to cause the bowels to evacuate. This translates into spending some time on the toilet.

Some tips to prepare for the prep are:

  • Use adult wet wipes, water spray or gentle toilet paper to clean off.

  • Keep plenty of clear liquids on hand to drink before and after the prep.

  • Follow your doctor's instructions. If you have any questions, call your doctor's office for help. You wouldn't want to have to do the prep all over again because you did it wrong!

While there’s no known cause of colorectal cancer, the following factors that may increase a person’s risk include:

  • Age: The disease is more common over the age of 50 after which your risk increases with each decade.

  • Gender: Women have a higher risk for colon cancer; men for developing rectal cancer.

  • Personal or Family history of colorectal cancer, polyposis, adenomous polyps, or hereditary polyp syndrome.

  • Diet high in fat and calories and low in fiber.

  • Lifestyle factors including excessive alcohol, smoking, sedentary lifestyle and obesity.

“You may feel great, but everyone needs to take preventive measures to ensure that they continue to feel great,” says Beck. “Get regular screenings, try to eat more fiber, exercise regularly, eliminate tobacco and monitor your alcohol intake, discuss your health with your PCP and you’ll continue to avoid becoming a statistic.”

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