Live Well

Early Detection May Save your Life

The best way to avoid many illnesses is prevention. A routine checkup, even if you are feeling fine, is the best way to stay healthy. Yearly exams or physicals are a good time to have a conversation with your doctor about important health screenings and when you should get them.

For example, starting at age 50, you should have a colonoscopy to screen for colon cancer. If there is a family history of colorectal cancer, your doctor may recommend you be screened earlier. There are several other tests to check for colon cancer. You can discuss with your doctor the best option for you and how often you should be screened.

Why should I be screened?
Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. Colorectal cancer usually develops from small abnormal growths (polyps) in your colon. A colonoscopy helps find the precancerous polyps before they develop into cancer. Colon cancer sometimes goes undetected because you may not feel any symptoms until it’s too late. That is why regular screenings are so important.

What to expect
During a colonoscopy, a thin lighted tube is used to look inside your colon and rectum. During the procedure, precancerous polyps and/or small signs of cancer can be removed. It only takes a few hours and is done as an outpatient procedure.

What are the risk factors?
As with most types of cancer, there are several risk factors for colon cancer. It’s important to know what types of things can increase your risk.

Lifestyle factors — things you can change

  • Obesity
  • Lack of exercise
  • Diet
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol

Other risk factors — things you can’t change

  • Age
  • Family history
  • Ethnic background
  • Having diabetes
  • Having Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis

When colon cancer is found early, the survival rate can be as high as 90 percent. If you’re over 50, talk with your doctor about getting a colonoscopy. It can save your life.