March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month and we thank The American Cancer Society for providing information on colonoscopies, the best way to fight colon cancer. False information and a misplaced sense of modesty have scared many people away from this test. Take a minute and learn some of the facts so you can take steps to protect yourself from this potentially deadly disease, but also one of the most treatable forms of cancer if detected early.
What is colonoscopy?
A Colonoscopy is a 30 minute exam that lets a doctor closely look at the inside of the entire colon and rectum. The doctor looks for polyps (small growths) or signs of cancer. The doctor uses a thin, flexible, hollow, lighted tube that has a tiny video camera on the end that is gently eased inside the colon and sends pictures to a screen.
Many people consider the preparation the worst part of these tests. You may need to follow a special diet for one or more days before these exams and take very strong laxatives before the procedure. For the test to be successful your bowels need to be as cleaned out as possible. It’s important for you to talk with your doctor to understand the procedure and the guidelines you should follow before testing.
The exam itself is usually not painful. You will be given anesthesia to make you sleep through the procedure. Because of that, most people miss work the day of the test. Most people feel OK after the procedure, but you may feel a bit woozy from the anesthesia. For that reason, most facilities will not let you drive immediately following the test and ask that you bring a driver.
What if they find something?
If a small polyp is found, your doctor will probably remove it. If s/he sees a large polyp, a tumor, or anything else abnormal, a biopsy will be done. For the biopsy, part, or all, of the polyp or abnormal area is taken out through the colonoscope and is sent to a lab to be checked for cancer or pre-cancer cells.
Why are these tests so important?
A colonoscopy is one of the most powerful weapons for preventing colorectal cancer by finding it early, when it is easier to treat. Nine out of ten people whose colon cancer is discovered early will be alive five years later and many will live a normal life span. You and your doctor will determine when you should start having the test and how often.
See one of our health care providers at The Health Trust Physicians Clinic in Winterset (515) 462-2950 or the Earlham Clinic (515) 758-2907 and get yourself checked out!