This Routine Screening Could Save Your Life!

March 25, 2021

Michael MurrayIf you’re 50 or older and see your doctor periodically, you no doubt have been advised to schedule a colonoscopy. But many people put off having this important procedure. General Surgeon Michael Murray, MD, says colonoscopies can certainly save lives, but many people fear the preparation involved or are afraid it will be painful. “The preparations used now are much easier to take and don’t require you to drink as much liquid,” he says. “There is no pain involved in the procedure because you are under anesthesia. And the procedure itself only takes about 15-20 minutes.”

According to the American Cancer Society®, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women, and the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and women in the U.S. However, due to increased screenings, rates have declined for the past 20 years. Dr. Murray says the purpose of a screening colonoscopy is to find polyps, which are growths in the lining of the colon. Some are benign and some are pre-cancerous. “About one out of three males and one out of five females will have a precancerous polyp on a screening colonoscopy. We remove them before they have a chance to become cancerous,” he says.

Are You at Risk?

If you have a history of colon polyps, colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease or a family history of colon/rectal cancer, you may be at increased risk. Diets high in red meat, processed meats, low-fiber diets, lack of exercise, obesity, smoking, and heavy alcohol use can also contribute to the chance of developing colon cancer. A healthy lifestyle combined with routine colon screenings can be helpful in preventing colon cancer.

Know the Symptoms

Early colon cancer usually presents without any symptoms at all, which is why screening is very important. However, as the tumor grows, symptoms can arise such as abdominal pain, which can vary in location and intensity or a change in bowel habits, such as frequency and consistency of stool. When the disease is in an advanced stage, some people can experience unexpected weight loss, abdominal distention, anemia, jaundice, passage of bloody stools, nausea and vomiting. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please consult with your doctor.

Who Should Be Screened?

Patients should get their screening colonoscopy when they turn 50. However, because African-Americans have a 20 percent higher incidence rate, initial screening for them is recommended at age 45. If you have a family history of colon cancer in first-degree relatives, the screening guidelines are slightly different. It is recommended to start 10 years younger than the age of diagnosis, or age 40, whichever is earlier. For example, if your parents or siblings were diagnosed with colon cancer at age 45, you should get your first screening at age 35. There is also an optional screening kit you can do at home, but talk to your doctor to see if it is right for you.