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Colon Cancer Awareness

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March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) every year about 140,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with colorectal cancer. “The best defense against colon cancer is to get regular screenings,” explains Soo Kim, MD, Surgeon, with Colon and Rectal Associates. “With diagnostic tools like a regular colonoscopy, we can catch cancer early, when it is easier to treat.”

When should you get screened?
More than 90% of colon cancer cases occur after the age of 50. Current guidelines recommend men and women at average risk of colorectal cancer should get a screening colonoscopy every 10 years beginning at age 45. African American men and women should begin regular screening colonoscopies at age 40. But check with your physician, based on other factors, family history, genetics or symptoms, they may recommend starting screenings earlier.

Dr. Kim cautions, “If you are experiencing any symptoms of bowel disease –including blood in your stool, persistent abdominal discomfort, diarrhea or constipation, unexplained weight loss, or feeling that your bowel doesn't empty completely – don’t wait for a screening, you should see your physician.”

How a colonoscopy works
This exam detects changes or abnormalities in your rectum and large intestine, which is also known as the colon. Any of those changes or abnormalities could indicate colon cancer. During the procedure, a long, flexible tube is inserted into your rectum; a very small video camera is attached at the tip of this tube, which allows the doctor to view your colon up close and look for abnormal tissue. As complicated as this may sound, it usually only takes a few minutes, and you’ll most likely be sedated during the painless procedure.

What to expect
Your colon needs to be empty and free of debris for your doctor to examine it properly. This requires fasting and a dose of laxatives (if doctor recommended) before the procedure. Your doctor will provide you with instructions on how to best prepare for your colonoscopy.

Arrange for someone to go with you to the procedure. That person should be able to drive you home afterward, as you may feel a bit groggy and disoriented. You’ll need some additional time that day to rest up and feel back to normal.

Although the preparation and procedure can be a bit of a nuisance, a colonoscopy is the best way to catch cancer and other intestinal disease or conditions before they can get serious. For a referral for a colon and rectal surgeon or a gastroenterologist call the Redeemer Health information and referral line at 800-818-4747.