March is colon cancer awareness month. A few simple steps can save your life.
March is colon cancer awareness month, and despite growing mindfulness of the disease, there are still many misconceptions that remain.
First lets take a look at the facts: Colon cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Six percent of us will develop it in our lifetime. Indeed it is so common it is hard not to know someone close to us who has been affected, or heard of the famous people who have died of the disease.
So what do many people not know? This common killer should be completely preventable. Colon cancer has a benign and removable precursor, a polyp. Polyps are lumps of tissue that group inside over 25 percent of us and if left alone can degenerate into cancer. That transition takes time and thus a colonoscopy every five to 10 years with removal of all polyps can prevent up to 95 percent of colon cancers.
It is the nitty-gritty of colonoscopy that puts many people off. But here's why you should get over your fear and do it anyway: Polyps do not cause symptoms, so waiting until you have pain, rectal bleeding, change of bowel habits or weight loss may mean it's already too late.
As for the exam itself, it has greatly improved in the recent past. People are sedated with short-acting drugs so that they sleep through the procedure, only to quickly awaken with the drug completely metabolized, allowing them to return to work if they wish. There is no pain, no discomfort and absolutely no embarrassment. Preparations for the exam have also changed drastically. No longer do people have to starve themselves for several days before the procedure, and you will not be asked to drink 12 glasses of salty and oily water. Today, many doctors allow their patients to eat the day prior. Typically this is a greasy breakfast the morning before the exam and a dairy lunch like ice cream and yogurt. The purge is typically accomplished by adding an over the counter powder like Miralax to Gatorade. The powder has no flavor and converts the eight glasses of Gatorade to a fluid that is not absorbable and simply washes the colon clean.
Most people describe all of this as doable. And if that is not enough encouragement for you, colon cancer screening is encouraged in the new health care law by eliminating copays and deductibles for an exam.
In our business we say you do not want to die of embarrassment - and we mean it. Get screened.
Brought to you by Carnegie Hill Endoscopy, located at 1516 Lexington Ave. Visit us at CarnegieHillEndo.com, or call us at (212) 860-6300.