If you’re 50 or older, chances are good that you are procrastinating when it comes to scheduling one particular health screening. Am I correct? When is the last time you had a colonoscopy or some other screening for colorectal cancer?
You might be worried or embarrassed about perceived pain or discomfort. You might think you’re at low risk for colorectal cancer because you’ve had no symptoms and don’t have a family history, Or you might even be a bit fearful of what the screening will reveal.
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths (after lung cancer), and screening is effective at detecting cancer at an early treatable stage — even preventing it in some cases. There is really no excuse for not being screened, because some options are simple, easy, inexpensive and non-invasive, and they cause neither pain nor discomfort.
Fecal occult blood testing and fecal immunochemical testing are two of those simple options. Either test requires only a kit that you use in the privacy of your bathroom, collecting samples from several bowel movements. It’s all private. Fecal occult testing requires some minor changes in your diet, such as avoiding red meat, right before the test; fecal immunochemical testing does not.
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The idea behind these tests is to see whether there are small amounts of blood hidden in the stool, suggesting pre-cancerous polyps or cancerous growths. If results show hidden blood, a follow up colonoscopy must be performed for diagnosis and treatment.
Colonoscopy is one of the most effective screening tests. It reduces colorectal cancer deaths by 60 percent to 70 percent, according to studies. It also has the advantage of being able to remove any abnormalities that are found during the same procedure.
During a colonoscopy, a flexible lighted tube, or scope, is inserted into the rectum and threaded through the entire length of the colon. Air is pumped into the colon to expand it and make viewing easier. Because the patient is given either general anesthesia or sedation, the whole procedure is less uncomfortable than the description suggests.
Many patients find preparation more disagreeable than the procedure itself, because prep involves the need to clear the bowels. You need to quit eating solid foods a day ahead and take a substance that triggers a bowel-clearing diarrhea.
These screenings could save your life by detecting cancer at a treatable stage or even preventing cancer in some cases. Make an appointment with your doctor today and ask about colorectal cancer screening.
Dr. Morris W. Beebe III, a gastroenterologist with Baptist Health Medical Group Gastroenterology, practices at Baptist Health Corbin.