Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer and the second most common cause of death from cancer in Canada. It is a highly treatable cancer if it is detected early. Yet, half the people diagnosed will find out too late and most people don't even bother to get tested.
Of late, there has been significant media coverage surrounding colon cancer....about which test one should take...?
The Canadian Task Force on Preventative Health Care stated that colonoscopies were not a "justified" means of routine screening for colorectal cancer. The new guidelines recommended low-risk patients should be tested using less invasive methods like fecal occult blood tests or sigmoidoscopy every 10 years.
The current dialogue has been around whether or not routine colonoscopies are "necessary" and how these findings compare to U.S. recommendations that say colonoscopies are the gold standard.
Before that, there was a frenzy over the World Health Organization's announcement that processed meats like bacon are carcinogenic. There was media and public outcry over the idea of having to give up hot dogs or sausages.
Once again it's the wrong conversation to be having about colon cancer. While these new guidelines are important (to the medical profession), the message that the public needs to hear is that getting tested can save your life or the life of a loved one.
Colon cancer is 90 per cent treatable, yet it's the second most common cause of death from cancer in men and third in women. Nearly half of those diagnosed find out too late, missing out on the chance for early and more effective treatment.
Too many assume that they don't need to get tested if they don't have any symptoms, but that's far from the truth. Many people diagnosed with colon cancer never had any symptoms or early warning signs. It should be common practice that the gift you give yourself (and your family) when you turn 50 is a colon cancer test.
What we should be talking about is the necessity of regular screenings, whatever kind of test you and your doctor decide is best for you.
We should be talking about whether only people 50 plus should be getting tested. Colon cancer remains a disease primarily associated with an older demographic despite the rise in cases among younger people.
We need more education and awareness about the risks of this disease.
We need a collective discussion on testing that makes sense to Canadians so that people are empowered to act as their own health advocate. As Dr. Robert Smith from the American Cancer Society (ACS) Vice President for Cancer Screening commented, "the best test for colorectal cancer screening is the one that gets done".
No one wants to talk about their colon. But Canadians need to overcome the "ick" factor and discomfort associated with colon cancer testing. If someone told you that you could avoid the devastation of cancer through a simple test wouldn't you take it?
Let's keep the conversation about colon cancer on what really matters: increasing uptake on getting tested. We could dramatically reduce the devastation of this disease and its impacts on the lives of thousands of Canadians each year.
Speak with your doctor, know your risk category, and Get the Test. Finding colon cancer is better than dying from it. That's the conversation we need to have to truly make a difference.
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Yes, you have to empty your colon, but no, it shouldn't be a horrible experience. The most common patient complaint isn't about time in the bathroom or the actual colonoscopy; it's about how much they had to drink. If you have difficulty drinking a large volume of liquid, ask about using one of the newer low-volume options. They are equally effective and easier on people who can't drink a lot of liquid at one time. Follow all instructions, including eating a liquid diet (broth, jello, juice) the day before your colonoscopy. Remember: the cleaner your colon, the better the physician can detect polyps, which is, after all, why you're there.
Actually, it shouldn't. Prior to the procedure, patients are given a combination of a narcotic and sedative called "conscious sedation." About 95 percent of patients sleep through the entire procedure and wake up with no memory of the experience. About five percent of people experience cramping, and state that it felt similar to the urge to have a bowel movement. If you are worried about discomfort, or have any fear related to the procedure, please tell your nurse or physician. They can help alleviate your fear and discuss options with you. Additionally, if you are uncomfortable being sedated, or have side effects related to sedation, your physician can perform the procedure without sedation. However, it is less stressful and more comfortable for the vast majority of patients to utilize conscious sedation for a colonoscopy. If fear is keeping you from scheduling your colonoscopy, consider a virtual colonoscopy. The prep procedure is the same, but a virtual colonoscopy is done in an external CT scanner instead of with an internal scope, and is done without sedation.
Physicians realize that a colonoscopy is one of the most invasive tests most people will ever experience. They do everything possible to ensure the most private, respectful and modest experience for every patient. Some people are more comfortable choosing a male (or female) physician to perform their colonoscopy. It is also helpful to remember that our physicians perform thousands of colonoscopies a year, and consider the colon the same way they consider any other organ. These experts chose this field due to its good mix of medicine and their ability to perform technically challenging procedures. It is also one of the fields in medicine where physicians have the ability to immediately impact a person's life by eliminating or vastly reducing the possibility of cancer. This is important work, and our team wants to make you comfortable.
There is a very low risk of complications during a colonoscopy. Fewer than one in one thousand (less than .1 percent) of UW Health patients experience any type of complication. In fact, your chance of getting colon cancer is much higher. One in 20 people will get colon cancer in their lifetime, and one-third of people diagnosed with colon cancer will die from the disease. Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women. It is important to schedule your colonoscopy with a physician who is certified to perform the procedure. The American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE), a leading gastrointestinal medical society, has recognized the UW Hospital and Clinics Ambulatory Procedure Center and the Madison Surgery Center as part of its program specifically dedicated to promoting quality in endoscopy. The ASGE Endoscopy Unit Recognition Program honors endoscopy units that follow the ASGE guidelines on privileging, quality assurance, endoscope reprocessing and CDC infection control guidelines; and have completed specialized training on principles in quality and safety in endoscopy. Additionally, every one of our physician's adenomatous polyp detection rate (the rate at which suspicious polyps are found and removed) exceeds the national standard.
Please don't wait to schedule your colonoscopy. The vast majority of colon cancers are found in patients who did not have any pain or other symptoms. Following the national recommendations for scheduling a colonoscopy helps physicians find polyps early, before they develop into cancer. Unless you have previous symptoms, schedule your first colonoscopy at age 50 and then follow your doctor's recommendation for repeat procedures. The risks of not having a colonoscopy far outweigh these concerns. Review the screening guidelines and contact your primary care provider and request a referral for a colonoscopy.
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