A colonoscopy probably isn’t the first item you would think to check off your bucket list when you turn 50, but it’s one that could save your life.
March is Colorectal Cancer Prevention Month and serves a timely reminder that everyone age 50 and older should have a colonoscopy. Colonoscopies are screening procedures to help prevent or catch colon cancer early, when it’s most curable.
For most people, it’s hard to talk about the procedure without a little nervous laughter. This is not your father’s colonoscopy — the one with the horror stories of pain, cramping and bad memories. Today, colonoscopies are painless procedures done with anesthesia. Patients go home with no memory of it. If results are normal, another colonoscopy isn’t necessary for 10 years.
Many people think they don’t need a colonoscopy if they’re not having any identifiable health issues and don’t have a family history of colon cancer. Angela Puckett was one of these people, but she knew getting a colonoscopy was on the list of things to do when she turned 50. So to celebrate her momentous birthday, she planned two wildly different trips: a scuba diving trip with her best friends and a trip to my office for a screening colonoscopy.
Luckily for Angela, she made the right decision. Her colonoscopy revealed news she wasn’t expecting — there was a mass in her colon and surgery was needed to remove it. Thankfully, the mass was precancerous, making no further treatment necessary. She returned this week, one year out from her surgery, in good spirits and ready for her follow-up colonoscopy.
One in 20 people will develop colorectal cancer in their lifetime. It is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the third leading cause of cancer death in men and women. Incidence and mortality rates for colorectal cancer are higher in men than women and are highest in African-American men and women than any other ethnicity. This is one of the reasons the screening age for African-Americans is 45, not 50 as it is for other ethnic groups.
Screening at the recommended frequency also increases the likelihood colorectal cancer will be detected at an early stage when it is more likely to be cured. Plus, treatment is less extensive and the recovery is faster.
The American Cancer Society recommends, beginning at age 50, men and women should have a colono-scopy — this is the gold standard — every 10 years if no issues arise.
An alternative testing schedule every five years is:
* Flexible sigmoidoscopy
* Double-contrast barium enema
* Virtual (CT) colonoscopy
Currently, only about half of people age 50 or older report having received colorectal cancer testing consistent with the guidelines.
We encourage you to be a success story and not a statistic. If you are older than 50 and have not had a colonoscopy, call your primary care physician or the Cancer Center at Northeast Georgia Medical Center at 770-219-8800 to schedule your colonoscopy today.
Dr. Chad Copper is a general surgeon with The Longstreet Clinic and a participating physician of the Cancer Center at Northeast Georgia Medical Center.