If I were to ask you about the screening test that you dread the most, what would it be? For many people, the resounding answer would be a colonoscopy. The prep, the exam itself, the area being examined…it can all seem very strange and uncomfortable.
While you may be skittish about the idea of the exam, colonoscopy is truly a procedure in which the end justifies the means. Colon cancer remains the third leading cause of cancer death among women, and an estimated 70,000 women will be diagnosed with the disease this year. Colonoscopy detects precancerous growths (polyps) and cancers early on, when they are most treatable—especially important because colon cancer often shows no symptoms. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that the procedure cuts the rate of death in half. And the preparation itself has gotten easier—the cleansing preparation can now be performed with pills and water instead of gallons of unpleasant liquid.
ACOG recommends that all women should be screened regularly for colon cancer beginning at age 50. Earlier screening is suggested for African American women and those at increased risk, including women who have a first-degree relative younger than age 60 or two or more first-degree relatives of any age with colorectal cancer or polyps; had colorectal cancer or polyps themselves; had bowel disease, such as chronic ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, or Crohn’s disease; or a family history of certain types of colon problems or colon cancer.
During Colon Cancer Awareness Month in March, maybe it’s time to put your fears and anxiety aside. Once the procedure is done, you can ease your mind knowing you’ve done the right thing and that you have roughly 10 years before having to do it again. Considering that it could save your life, a colonoscopy is time minutes well spent.