In your 50s? It's time for a colonoscopy
BY DOUG KLIEWER
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
5/23/12 at 3:02 AM
Remember the girl who loved mini-skirts, roller rinks and disco dancing? Being a teenager in the 1970s - those were the days. Now the millennium has dawned and that teenage girl is in her 50s, so don't let her down. During Women's Health Month in May, take the necessary steps to schedule all your preventive health screenings, including a colonoscopy. It could save your life.
For most women, remembering to schedule the annual Pap test and mammogram isn't a big deal. More than 80 percent of women routinely schedule mammograms and Pap smears. And with a focus on women's health this month, you may even think to make that appointment with a dermatologist that you've been putting off.
However, there is one very important test that you may be forgetting. Women over 50 (or 45 for African-Americans) need to schedule a colonoscopy as they are at average risk for colon cancer based on age alone. However, only about 60 percent of women actually do get screened for colon cancer when they should. Even after receiving a referral, compliance is often lower, typically 50 percent or less, according to studies.
Colon cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths for women in the U.S., right behind breast cancer. However, when it is caught early, colon cancer is 90 percent curable. And a colonoscopy is the only test that can actually detect and prevent cancer at the same time. Colon cancer often begins as a benign polyp that, if found soon enough, can be removed to keep you cancer-free.
As a gastroenterologist, I know that there are many reasons that 40 percent of at-risk women put off getting screened for colon cancer. Many simply don't think they are at risk and for that reason, may not give it the consideration it deserves. Or if they have considered it, they worry about the scheduling, because a colonoscopy usually requires a day off from work or family obligations.
Maybe the preparation is keeping you from it, because a colonoscopy requires a combination of laxatives, clear liquids and one or two missed meals.
And then the nature of the test itself leaves many with apprehensions.
In reality, a colonoscopy is a relatively easy procedure. Patients are sedated and usually remember very little about the test itself. The entire procedure usually takes about 30 minutes. If the findings are unremarkable, a follow-up test isn't recommended for another five to 10 years. It's a small price to pay for a couple of days of discomfort. Most of the women I've screened leave the test with the same opinion: It wasn't as bad as they thought, and the peace of mind is well worth it.
The odds of you or someone you know developing colon cancer are one in 20, but together we can change that. Through StopColonCancerNow.com, I am working with a national community of physicians who are committed to increasing colon cancer screenings for men and women at risk for colon cancer. Age is the number one risk factor. If you are 50 or older, or 45 and African-American, it is time to get screened. Other factors such as family history or certain digestive symptoms could require earlier screening. Please do not wait for symptoms as that can be a sign of progressed disease.
Talk with your OB/GYN or primary care physician about the right age for screening for you. The 1970s may be gone and disco may be out, but staying healthy isn't.
Doug Kliewer, M.D., is a gastroenterologist with Adult Gastroenterology Associates and medical director of Tulsa Endoscopy Center. He and his colleagues are part of StopColonCancerNow.com, a community of more than 700 member physicians nationwide who are working to increase colon cancer screenings through patient education, primary care physician outreach and special events.
Doug Kliewer: A colonoscopy is the only test that can actually detect and prevent cancer at the same time.