Colonoscopies Can Prevent Colorectal Cancer and Save Lives

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. (Source: cancer.gov). The good news is, colon cancer screening dramatically reduces your risk of dying from colon cancer. More than 80 percent of colon cancers are preventable through recommended colonoscopies and lifestyle changes (Source: American Journal of Gastroenterology, 2006).

Regular colonoscopies can save your life. 

What Is a Colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is an exam of the entire colon with a colonoscope – a slender, flexible tube with a camera on the end. Patients are given medication to help prevent pain and discomfort during the procedure. This medication allows you to relax and often causes you to forget the procedure.

If your doctor finds any small growths (polyps), they are removed. Polyps can eventually become cancerous. While not every colon polyp turns to cancer, almost every colon cancer begins as a small non-cancerous polyp. During a colonoscopy these polyps can be identified and removed or destroyed. If a polyp is large enough, tissue can be retrieved and sent for biopsy to determine the exact type of the polyp.

When Should I Get a Colonoscopy?

You should have your first colonoscopy at age 50. You may need to be screened earlier if you currently have worrisome symptoms, such as:

  • Rectal bleeding
  • Change in bowel habits
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Unexplained weight loss

You may also need to be screened earlier if you have:

  • A personal history of colon cancer
  • A personal history of known hereditary inflammatory colon cancer bowel disease
  • A family history
  • Polyps

Peter Eichenseer, MD, gastroenterologist, talks about when you should get a colonoscopy and how effective the screening is for preventing colon cancer.

Know Your Risk

In addition to the promoting factors mentioned above, some additional factors may put you at a higher risk for colorectal cancer.

  • The risk of developing colon cancer starts rising at age 40 and increases with age.
  • Colorectal cancer is most common after age 50.
  • The median age at which colorectal cancer occurs is 62 years.
  • There are cases of younger patients with no known risk factors who develop colon cancer before the age of 40.
  • Jews of Eastern European descent (Ashkenazi Jews) may have a higher rate of colon cancer.
  • Partly because of disproportionate screening, African-Americans have a higher risk of developing colon cancer and a lower survival rate (about 20% higher incidence rate and 45% higher mortality rate) compared to Caucasians, Asians, Hispanics and Native Americans.
  • The risk of death due to colorectal cancer is increased for Native Americans and Alaskan Natives.

Test your Risk Factors

Convenient Screening Locations

Talk with your primary care doctor about the colon cancer screening that is appropriate for you. Then call 414-805-3666 or 800-272-3666 to schedule your colonoscopy at any of our convenient screening locations. Some screening locations may require a referral from your doctor.

Colonoscopy: What to Expect

Many people are afraid to get a colonoscopy, expecting it to be painful or embarrassing. Afterward, many are surprised to learn the procedure wasn’t as difficult as they expected. A little knowledge can go a long way to help you understand what it will be like and soothe any fears you may have about this important test.

Is a Colonoscopy Painful?

A colonoscopy is usually not painful. Almost all colonoscopies can be performed using “intravenous sedation” or “twilight sedation” in which you are very drowsy, but comfortable and still breathing on your own. The most common type of sedation also has a mild amnesiac effect, so most patients do not even remember the procedure. Your doctor can discuss with you the best form of sedation to suit your needs.

What Is the “Prep” for a Colonoscopy?

Colonoscopy prep is generally considered the most difficult part of the entire procedure. The good news? Once you’re done with the prep, the rest is easy. There are a variety of preparation methods for colonoscopy to rid your colon of feces. These range from liquids (of varying quantity) with or without enemas to pills. A clean colon is essential to allow for a careful examination for polyps or other abnormalities. Your doctor can discuss and prescribe the most appropriate preparation method for you.

Learn more about the colonoscopy procedure

What Causes Colorectal Cancer?

Colorectal cancer occurs as the result of a series of genetic abnormalities in the cells that line the colon and rectum. In the majority of cases, these mutations occur sporadically, but there are a small number of cases that occur in families with defined mutations that put family members at very high risk.

Environmental factors involved in colorectal cancer can be distilled down to a combination of Westernized diet and lifestyle. It appears that lifestyle and dietary changes modify colorectal cancer risk. How these factors affect the development of colorectal cancer can be explained as an imbalance between cancer promoting and protective factors.

The promoting factors are: high intake of fat, (especially animal fat), high calorie intake, obesity, diets heavy in fried or charred foods, tobacco use, and excess intake of alcohol - especially beer.

Protective factors include adequate physical activity, high intake of dietary fiber, high fluid intake, high calcium diet, and a high intake of fruit and vegetables and fish. In simple terms, the longer carcinogenic factors are in contact with the colonic mucosa, the more likely it is that they will exert their cancer causing influence on these cells. Factors such as fiber, adequate fluid intake and exercise tend to speed transit through the colon, and micronutrients and bio-active substances protect the colon and rectum’s lining from the carcinogens.

(Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Cancer Annual Report – 2012 Data, “Colon and Rectal Cancer,” Kirk Ludwig, MD, FACS, FACR, Colorectal Surgeon, Chief Division of Colorectal Surgery)

Five Easy Lifestyle Changes That Can Reduce Your Risk

Age (50+) is a factor in your risk for colorectal cancer. You can’t change your age, but there are many other ways to help reduce your risk through lifestyle changes and a regular screening program. There is clear and convincing evidence that screening is effective and is our most important strategy in reducing the incidence of colon and rectal cancer. Along with scheduling a screening, start incorporating these healthy habits to begin reducing your risk today.

  • Eat a low-fat diet
  • Eat between 25 and 40 grams of fiber each day from fruits, vegetables, whole grain breads, cereals, nuts and beans
  • Eat foods high in folate such as leafy green vegetables or supplementing the diet with a multi-vitamin with folate
  • Drink alcohol in moderation
  • Quit smoking
  • Exercise for 20 minutes, three to four times a week

Why Aren't More People Getting Screened?

Screening compliance rates are influenced by many factors including: 

  • Lack of public awareness about colon cancer and of the benefits of regular screening
  • Inconsistent promotion of screening by medical care providers
  • Uncertainty among insurance providers and consumers about insurance benefits and limitations on covered benefits 
  • Characteristics of the screening procedures (e.g., imperfect tests, negative attitudes towards the screening procedures) 
  • Absence of social support for openly discussing and doing something about "the disease down there”

Test Your Knowledge

Now that you know the facts, test your knowledge about colorectal cancer and screening.

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