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March was Colorectal Cancer Month, and even though the month has come and gone, the importance of colorectal cancer awareness is always here. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in men and women in the United States. Overall, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about one in 20 (five percent). The risk is slightly more for men. Every year, about 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and more than 50,000 people do not survive it.
Symptoms of Colon Cancer
When it comes to colon cancer, many patients have no symptoms; however, some may notice rectal bleeding, abdominal pain or cramps that won’t go away, a change in bowel habits, unintentional weight loss or a condition called anemia that causes weakness and fatigue. If a person has any of these symptoms, he or she should contact their primary care doctor for an evaluation and/or referral to a gastroenterologist (a physician trained to diagnose/treat diseases related to the gastrointestinal tract).
Early Detection is Key
Colonoscopy helps in early detection of cancer, when the disease is easier to cure. In fact, studies have shown that colonoscopies and increased colon cancer awareness have decreased colon cancer rates by two to three percent per year over the last 15 years. A colonoscopy is a test that looks at the inner lining of the large intestine (medically known as a colon) to check for polyps or cancer. Polyps are growths in the colon that can turn into cancer over time.
What is a Colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy is typically performed as an outpatient procedure at an endoscopy suite. A day before the procedure, patients are advised to eat a special diet and drink a “bowel prep” liquid to clean the colon. Each patient must also have a designated driver to and from the procedure. For the procedure, patients are given medication to help them relax as well as a sedative. A colonoscope is then carefully inserted into the anus and up into colon. Used to examine the lining of the colon, the colonoscope is a thin tube with a camera and light attached to its tip. The procedure usually takes 20 to 60 minutes, although patients should plan on two to three hours for waiting, preparation and recovery. After the procedure, most patients can eat as normal.
How Often Does One Need a Colonoscopy?
Once a person turns 50, he or she should receive a colonoscopy every 10 years. However, patients with certain medical conditions (such as inflammatory bowel disease), family history of colon cancer, prior history of polyps or certain hereditary syndromes (such as FAP or lynch syndrome) should receive them more frequently.
Anyone over 50 who has never had a colonoscopy should talk to their doctor today about getting one. After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Dr. Deepa Reddy is a gastroenterologist with WakeMed Physician Practices (WPP) – Gastroenterology. WPP – Gastroenterology performs 25 to 30 colonoscopies per week – learn more about the practice.
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