Colonoscopy screenings are not nearly as discomforting as people think. To learn more about what to expect from this life-saving diagnostic procedure, click here.
Turning 50 brings two rites of passage: You can join AARP, and it's time to start screening for colon cancer. The second rite could save your life.
"In general, the best way to prevent colon cancer is to be rigorous about colorectal cancer screening—getting colonoscopies at regular intervals," says Michael Hersh, MD, a gastroenterologist on the medical staff of Northwest Community Hospital. "Although a high fiber diet has never proven to decrease the risk of colorectal cancer, it is helpful for overall colon health. The easiest way to increase dietary fiber is with supplements containing psyllium husk. Foods that are very high in fiber—things like bran and oatmeal, and fruits and vegetables—should be a part of your diet, too."
When colon cancer is caught early enough, many patients may survive five years or more. Unfortunately, only four in 10 cases are caught in the early stages, making it the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States.
That's why a colonoscopy is so important, Dr. Hersh says. The screening allows the entire colon to be inspected, as well as on-the-spot removal of growths before they become cancerous. The removal of precancerous polyps reduces colon cancer risk by 80 percent.
According to Dr. Hersh, there are guidelines for colonoscopy screenings:
The procedure itself is much simpler than people imagine. "The preparation for a colonoscopy involves being on a clear liquid diet the day before the test, as well as taking a laxative," Dr. Hersh says. "On the day of the procedure, an intravenous sedative is administered." Then a physician inserts a tube attached to a tiny video camera into the rectum to inspect the colon. If tissue samples are required, the same tube is used to take them. "The procedure itself takes around a half-hour," Dr. Hersh says. "You can go back to work the following day."