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Prevention not Procrastination: Protecting Yourself against Colon Cancer

Aug 11, 2015 11:30AM ● By Dia

Someone reading this right now has colon cancer, and many of you have pre-cancerous polyps. Statistics say 1 in 19 people will develop it colon cancer. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in both men and women, but it is preventable. Why? Because we are a nation of procrastinators, most of whom have developed a severe case of ostrich syndrome. What is ostrich syndrome you may ask – it’s when we burry our head in the sand and pretend something doesn’t exist. This article is to the point and bordering blunt because there is nothing “fluffy” about colon cancer. Keep reading…it may save your life.

Let’s talk prevention

Colon cancer is almost 100% preventable. Except for very rare cases, almost all colon cancer starts as a polyp. Polyps are pre-cancerous pouches along the lining of the colon. These can easily be removed long before they ever turn cancerous. If everyone was screened for colon cancer, either by age 50, earlier if they have a strong family history, or upon symptoms, we could change the statistical landscape of colon cancer, taking it from the 2nd leading cause of death to an uncommon occurrence.

Colon Cancer Does Not Discriminate

Colon cancer is NOT an old person’s problem. As a matter of fact, colon cancer is affecting more and more people under the age of fifty. Since this age group is less likely to be tested, nearly 30% of those under the age of fifty are found with later stage cancer. The late detection is mostly due to lack of routine screening and unreported symptoms. The cause is mostly due to our highly processes and less nutritious diets.

The color of your skin and your nationality will also not protect you. Colon cancer targets people of all ethnic groups. Even if you have no family history, you may still be at risk.

For the record, being skinny or fit does not protect you either. Colon cancer is found in the underweight, overweight, strong, week, rich, poor, you name it. Nothing outside of a proper exam can clear you of this terrible diagnosis.

Symptoms Not to Ignore

Many people are diagnosed each year and report no symptoms, but there are symptoms that you must never ignore. If you experience any of these symptoms, talk to your healthcare provider about getting your colonoscopy scheduled. Do not put it off!

·       Rectal Bleeding

·       Change in Bowel Habits (constipation or diarrhea)

·       Bloating

·       Nausea or Vomiting

·       Unexplained Weight-loss

Types of Colonoscopies

There are two types of colonoscopy: virtual and optical. Both require a prep. The virtual colonoscopy is also known as a Colonography with CT reconstruction. A four inch tube is placed in the rectum and the colon is inflated with carbon dioxide. The CT scanner then takes images of the abdomen and pelvic area. The entire procedure takes about fifteen minutes and there is no sedation, so you can go back to work or home right after.  The physician will later review the images which look at the inside and outside of the colon. Other areas of the pelvis can also be seen.

An optical colonoscopy is done in the hospital or surgery center under light sedation. A long tube is inserted in the rectum and then twists and turns through the colon looking for polyps of cancers on the inside of the colon. The procedure takes a bit longer and there is also a recovery period. If you have an optical colonoscopy, be prepared to have someone drive you home.

Below are a few pluses and minuses of each:

·       Optical colonoscopy has the risk of sedation and will require an entire day off work.

·       Virtual colonoscopy has some low risk radiation from the CT Scan.

·       Optical colonoscopy carries a risk of perforation to the colon.

·       Virtual colonoscopy can identify polyps and cancer and even precisely mark where they are, but it will take another procedure to remove them if found. People with a history of polyps or cancer should have the optical option.

·       Virtual colonoscopy is a great screening tool and does not require sedation, allowing for a full immediate recovery from the procedure.

Colonoscopy Preps are Gross

When you have a colonoscopy, either virtual or optical, you need to prep your body. This means getting cleaned out with a prep kit. Usually starting the process two days in advance. Preps can be different, some require the use of a suppository and the use of a liquid laxative. Keep in mind that you can do anything for forty-eight hours, but for this one, stay near a restroom.

You may not want to talk or read about bowel habits, bloody stool, and colonoscopies. My answer to you is, if you think prevention is gross –  try having colon cancer.


Judy Gaman, BS, MS is part of the team at Executive Medicine of Texas, a leader in preventative and proactive health. She is the co-author of several award-winning books including Age to Perfection: How to Thrive to 100, Happy, Healthy, and Wise. She is also a co-host of the Staying Young Show, a nationally syndicated radio show, which is also available as a podcast along with daily health tips called Staying Young Medical Minutes.