Colorectal cancer is one of the few cancers that is 90 percent preventable, says Dr. Ahmad Idris of Florida Hospital Medical Group in Altamonte Springs.
March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. According to the American Cancer Society, the colon cancer death rate in our country could be cut by more than half if all Americans simply followed recommended screening guidelines. Early detection and treatment are critical. If caught early, colorectal cancer is highly curable. If precancerous polyps are found during screening, the disease is often altogether preventable. Because colorectal cancer can develop with no signs or symptoms, a colonoscopy could serve as a life-saving test.
Who should be screened, and when?
Men and women are affected equally by colorectal cancer. Unlike other cancer screenings, which can only detect a problem, colorectal cancer screening with colonoscopy can prevent the cancer by removing precancerous polyps during the exam. For patients of average risk with no family history, it is widely recommended that screenings for colon cancer begin at age 50, or age 45 for African Americans, with follow-up screenings every five to 10 years, even for people who feel perfectly healthy. If you do have a family history of cancer, are experiencing pain or bleeding, or a previous screening revealed polyps, your doctor may recommend an earlier screening and that you be screened more frequently.
What is the screening process like?
There’s no need to feel embarrassed or ashamed during a colonoscopy. It is your doctor’s job to perform these lifesaving screenings, and every effort is made to help patients feel comfortable during this painless procedure.
- You’ll be asked to follow a clear liquid diet the day before your procedure. This means only water, clear broth, soda, tea, coffee (without milk/creamer), clear juice (without pulp), Jell-O, popsicles, and other flavored drinks.
- You’ll be given instructions on using a laxative mixture to empty your bowel so that your colon can be viewed clearly during the procedure.
- During the colonoscopy, your doctor will look at the inner lining of your large intestine (which includes your rectum and colon). A thin, flexible tube called a colonoscope is inserted while you are sedated.
- Most patients have very little awareness that the procedure is taking place. You’re done within an hour.
Along with functioning as a screening test to check for cancer or precancerous polyps in the colon or rectum, a colonoscopy can also help find ulcers, tumors, and areas of inflammation or bleeding. It is important to be screened for colon cancer even if you are not currently experiencing symptoms or signs of the polyps or cancers.
Dr. Ahmad Idris is board-certified in gastroenterology at Florida Hospital Medical Group in Altamonte Springs. He has extensive experience treating digestive diseases, including esophageal, colon, and liver disorders.
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