Your 45th is a birthday milestone worth celebrating – it’s also a perfect time for self-care and a wellness screening that could save your life. March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and fitting time to explain the importance of having a colonoscopy and the role it plays in treating colorectal cancers early.
Did you know colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among men and women in the United States? According to the American Cancer Society, it will cause nearly 53,000 deaths this year.
Colon cancer can affect anyone and risks increase with age for both men and women. But there are some risk factors you can take control over with simple and moderate lifestyle changes.
Risk factors you CAN’T change:
• Age- Colorectal cancer is more common after age 45.
• Race- African Americans and Eastern Europeans are more at risk.
• Cancer History- A history of other cancers should be considered.
• Family History- A family history of colon cancer or colon polyps can put you at an increased risk.
Risk factors you CAN change:
• Weight- Getting to and staying at a healthy weight.
• Diet- Follow a healthy and well-balanced eating routine.
• Activity- Engage in regular physical activity.
• Smoking and Alcohol Use- Try to quit smoking and limit alcohol consumption.
Finding it early, when it is small and hasn’t spread, is often the single most effective means of treating any cancer. When dealing with colorectal cancers, physicians recommend having a screening to rule out any cause for concern. The most common is a colonoscopy. In most cases, a primary care physician will order this screening which is usually done by a general surgeon or a gastroenterologist.
A colonoscopy is an internal examination of the large intestine and rectum. A scope made of a flexible tube with an attached tiny camera is moved through the intestine to look for polyps and any abnormal areas that might be cancerous. The scope’s tools can be used to collect tissue for a tiny biopsy and to remove polyps, which in many cases, though benign, can slowly develop into cancer. A screening can help detect colon cancer before there are even any signs and symptoms.
It is also important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer, including a change in bowel habits, change in caliber of stool, rectal bleeding with bright red blood, blood in stool, cramping and abdominal pain, weakness and fatigue, and unintended weight loss. Know that sometimes colorectal cancer can mimic other common conditions like hemorrhoids or irritable bowel syndrome. If cancer is found, a physician will explain next steps in seeking proper treatment. With colorectal cancers, if surgery can be performed, it is usually the most viable option.
If you are considering scheduling a colonoscopy, screenings should begin at age 45 for most people. If nothing abnormal is found and you don’t have risk factors, you should be screened every 10 years. Routine checks in most cases aren’t needed in those age 75 or older.
If you have questions about getting colonoscopy or how to schedule, talk it over with your primary care physician today.
Donna Wyatt, M.D., is a family medicine physician practicing at CHRISTUS Primary Care-South Bossier. She is Board Certified in Family Medicine. Dr. Wyatt specializes in preventive care, Women’s Health, and alternative and holistic medicine. She is accepting new patients of all ages.