A colonoscopy could save your life

By: Sanford Health News .

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Colon cancer often starts as a benign growth, or polyp, in the lining of the large intestine or rectum. While most polyps are harmless, they can eventually turn into cancer.

“Through a colonoscopy, we can check for polyps,” says Brett Baloun, M.D., gastroenterologist at Sanford Center for Digestive Health. “If any are found, they can be removed to prevent cancer from forming, or sent for analysis to check for cancer.”

If a polyp is found early, the chances of it developing into cancer are greatly reduced. If cancer is detected, it’s 90 percent treatable when discovered in its earliest stages.

“These are two very good reasons to get a colonoscopy as recommended,” Dr. Baloun says. “Especially when the procedure itself is easy. Fear can hold people back from getting a colonoscopy, but this screening could save a life.”

Early colon cancer often develops without symptoms. But in the later stages, symptoms can include rectal bleeding, stomach cramps, weight loss, fatigue or change in bowel habits. Colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States.

Sanford Health recently ranked in the top 1 percent of hospitals nationally for its work in gastroenterology and GI surgery, according to U.S. News & World Report. The ranking, part of the U.S. News Best Hospitals analysis, looked at patient safety, staffing and technology when determining excellence.

The procedure

Colonoscopies last approximately 30 minutes, and patients are sedated to provide comfort.

The procedure itself is not typically the biggest fear factor, but rather patients get anxious about what is required of them beforehand.

“What most people dread is the prep, which requires cleansing the colon as well as possible,” Dr. Baloun says. “Talk with your physician about your options, and develop a prep plan based on your circumstances.”

Who needs a colonoscopy

Men and women with no history of colon cancer should start regular screenings at age 50. As long as the results are normal, most people can wait another 10 years before having another procedure.

“If you have a personal history of polyps, colorectal cancer or inflammatory bowel disease, or a family history of colon cancer or polyps, your risk for cancer increases,” Dr. Baloun says. “In that case, screenings may need to begin before age 50, and be performed more often.”

Additional risk factors for colon cancer include smoking, obesity, inactive lifestyle, heavy alcohol use and Crohn’s disease.

It’s time to start

If you’ve been putting off the inevitable, make scheduling a colonoscopy a priority.

“This is the definition of preventive medicine, which is the best medicine we have,” Dr. Baloun says. “There just aren’t any excuses for not taking some time out of your day to protect your health, well-being and possibly your life.”

Posted In Cancer, Health, Healthy Living