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Avoiding a colonoscopy? Here’s why you shouldn’t

June 10, 2014

“It’s embarrassing.”

“It makes me feel uncomfortable.”

“The test is painful.”

“It doesn’t run in my family, so I don’t need to worry about it.”

These are common excuses you might hear when it comes to getting a colonoscopy. But the fact of the matter is, there is no good excuse. Colon cancer is the third most common form of cancer in the United States. When detected early, it is also one of the most treatable.

In 2013, there were more than 100,000 cases of colon cancer and 40,000 cases of rectal cancer diagnosed in the United States. Of the cancers that affect both men and women, colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths. Last year, there were more than 50,000 deaths from colon and rectal cancer combined.

Within the past decade, colon cancer rates have fallen nearly 30 percent, thanks to an increase in colonoscopy screenings. In fact, colonoscopies nearly tripled among adults over the age of 50 from 2000 to 2010. Despite these promising statistics, many adults are still avoiding this simple but effective cancer screening.

In this article, the American Cancer Society dispels some common myths about colonoscopies. The article accurately portrays colon cancer as a silent but avoidable killer, and concludes that any perceived drawbacks of undergoing colonoscopy screenings are far outweighed by the benefits.

It can sometimes be difficult to recognize the specific risk factors and symptoms of colon cancer, but there is one key factor that puts everyone at risk—age.

Everyone Over 50 is at Risk

There are several known risk factors for colon cancer. These include family history, past occurrence of other cancers, poor diet and exercise habits, and alcohol and tobacco use.

While these risk factors can increase the chance of developing colon cancer, all adults over the age of 50 are at increased risk. In fact, more than 90 percent of cases occur in people who are at least 50 years of age.

The moral of the story—everyone should start regular colonoscopy screenings at the age of 50, regardless of a lack of risk factors or symptoms.

Early Diagnosis is the Key

Colon cancer almost always develops from precancerous polyps in the colon or rectum. Screening tests can find these precancerous polyps so that they can be removed before they turn into cancer. , which is when treatment works best.

When diagnosed early, the cure rate for colon cancer is greater than 90 percent. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening for colon cancer using a combination of these three methods:

  • High-sensitivity fecal occult blood testing:  This form of screening tests for hidden blood in three different stool samples. Fecal occult blood testing should be performed every year starting at age 50.
  • Sigmoidoscopy:  With this type of screening, doctors use a flexible tube, known as a sigmoidoscope, to examine the interior walls of the rectum and part of the colon. A sigmoidoscopy should be scheduled every three to five years.
  • Colonoscopy:  A colonoscopy is similar to a sigmoidoscopy, except physicians will examine the rectum and the entire colon. Samples of tissue may also be collected for closer examination, or precancerous polyps may be removed. This type of screening is also useful as a follow-up diagnostic tool when the results of another screening test are positive. Colonoscopies should be performed every 10 years.
So there you have it. The facts are clear. Colon cancer screenings can save your life—and avoiding any awkwardness or embarrassment isn’t worth the risk.

If you are over the age of 50, it is important to begin regular screenings right away. So don’t wait—talk with your doctor about scheduling a screening today.