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A Colonoscopy Can Prevent Colorectal Cancer 

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By Gregory P. Fitzharris, MD, FACS, FASCRS, a colorectal surgeon with Sentara Surgery Specialists in Hampton

Have you ever heard that maintenance costs less than repair? The same is true for your health. And maintaining your health could do more than save you money, it could save your life.

Colon cancer is the third deadliest cancer in the U.S., following lung and breast cancer and the second leading cause of cancer related death. It’s often found once symptoms appear, but if you’ve waited for symptoms, you’ve waited too long.

People put screenings off for all kinds of reasons—embarrassment, possible discomfort or male ego—to name a few. For one African American man, he waited until he was 55 when he spotted blood in his stool. He soon regretted being so stubborn. A screening colonoscopy revealed colon cancer.

The doctor said there was a 50 percent chance the cancer had spread to his kidneys.

This man was lucky. A rapidly scheduled surgery to remove part of his large intestines saved his life. He knows men with good insurance who still don’t get the screening. His advice to them, “If you love your wife, get it done. If you love your kids, get it done.”

It’s no secret that more men than women die from colon cancer and still more blacks die from this disease than their white counterparts. Why?

Well, colonoscopy screening rates are not what they need to be. And finding it early depends on this test.

Small Growths, Big Trouble

The largest part of your intestines is your colon and the last few inches of your colon is called the rectum. Together cancer of these areas is called colorectal cancer.

Often, cancer of the colon (or the large intestines) starts as a small clump of cells called a polyp. Usually benign at first, these polyps can development into cancer.

Get it Done

About 90 percent of all colorectal cancers could be prevented if everyone over age 50 had regular colonoscopies, an exam of the intestines used to find and remove cancerous growths. If caught in the early stages, this disease is very treatable and beatable.

New Technology Makes Colonoscopy Screenings Comfortable

During a colonoscopy, patients relax under mild sedation while a gastroenterologist uses a slender, flexible fiber-optic camera to examine the interior of the large intestine for polyps or abnormalities. Most polyps discovered can be removed on the spot, preventing them from growing into cancers.

According to one local gastroenterologist, “Most patients just take a nap during the procedure. There’s no pain, little risk, and most patients won’t need another screening for 10 years.”

Important Changes

Changes in your body or bowel movements can be an important signal. If you notice any of these signs of colon cancer, see your doctor immediately:

Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
Change in your bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation for more than 2 weeks
Narrowing of stool that could signal an obstruction
Abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain lasting longer than 2 weeks
Feeling that your bowel doesn't empty completely
Weakness or fatigue
Unexplained weight loss

Early detection is key. Don’t sit on colon cancer.

Related Links:
Sentara Surgery Specialists
Sentara Cancer Network
Colorectal Cancer
Sentara Digestive and Colorectal Services
Sentara Endoscopy Services
Gregory P. FitzHarris, MD

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