Talking about your bathroom habits can be a very uncomfortable matter to discuss. But, such a discussion could save your life. Often, patients are embarrassed and choose to ignore their problems rather than deal with them. Denying problems only delays care and treatment and could lead to an irreversible diagnosis.
March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness month. Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in the U.S. and is preventable, even treatable when diagnosed early.
Colorectal Cancer affects men and women of all racial and ethnic groups. Typically, people 50 years of age and older are most affected. However, colon cancer has been diagnosed in patients of all ages, even those much younger.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that if every adult over the age of 50 followed the guidelines for routine colonoscopies, nearly 60 percent of the colon cancer-related deaths could be prevented.
So, what do you have to do to avoid becoming a statistic?
First, know your family history. Your family history is a strong predictor of your health. It is important to know which family members, if any, had colon issues and what their outcomes were. Genetics play a major role in your health. But, there are also several non-genetic risk factors that can increase your risk of developing colorectal cancer, such as a diet high in fat and calories and low in fiber, diabetes, excess weight, limited activity and the use of tobacco and alcohol products.
Second, talk with your family physician. During your annual physical exam, ask your doctor if you should consider having a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is an outpatient procedure that examines the large bowel, also known as the colon, from the inside. If you are 50 years of age or older, you should have a screening colonoscopy done. But sometimes certain symptoms can indicate a colonoscopy should be done before you reach 50. Symptoms to look for include: abdominal discomfort, blood in the stool and a change in bowel habits. If you have a strong family history of colorectal issues, be sure to ask your physician as to when you should begin your screenings. You may need to begin at age 40 or even sooner.
Third, meet with a specialist. Find a specialist that conducts colonoscopies, such as a general surgeon or gastroenterologist that you are comfortable with. Discussions regarding any symptoms, family history and the procedure are necessary and you need to feel confident in the physician that will conduct the procedure.
Fourth, schedule your colonoscopy. Once you have found a surgeon you are comfortable with, take the next big step and schedule the procedure. The procedure itself may take less than 30 minutes, depending on your exam. Colonoscopies can find abnormal growths, also known as polyps. Often polyps are precancerous and can be removed before turning into cancer. Screenings also help find colorectal cancer at early stages, when treatment often leads to a cure. About nine out of every 10 people whose colorectal cancer is found early and treated are still alive five years later.
Fifth, follow all of your pre-operative instructions. Your colonoscopist's office, or the facility where you will have procedure, should provide you with instructions of what you can and cannot do in the days leading up to the procedure. Be sure to ask for clarity on any step that you have questions.
Six, follow up and ask questions. After your procedure is completed, the physician will share with your designated family member or friend what was discovered during the exam. A follow up appointment may be scheduled for you so that your physician can review the results with you. Be sure that you understand the information presented and ask questions about anything you do not quite understand. It's your body; you need to have a clear understanding of how it is functioning.
Seven, repeat the process as often as your surgeon or family physician recommends. Depending on the results of the test, you may not need another colonoscopy for up to 10 years, or it could be much sooner. Be sure you know when to schedule your next screening. Colonoscopies are not a one-time screening. They need be repeated throughout life to ensure a healthy colon.
Dr. L.G. Palanca, Dr. Katherine Liu and Dr. Frank Lloyd are general surgeons at Putnam Surgical Specialties inside of Putnam County Hospital and perform colonoscopies. All are accepting new patients. If you have questions or need to schedule your colonoscopy, please call 658-2710. Self-referrals welcomed.