This year, when you’re working on your New Year’s resolutions, we have a simple and lifesaving one that everyone who is approaching or has already turned 50 should add to their list. If you haven’t already had a colonoscopy, it’s time to make an appointment for this quick and crucial procedure.

What Is A Colonoscopy?

Colonoscopies might have a bad reputation since the subject matter can be uncomfortable and awkward. Thankfully, the exam is quick, relatively painless, and you can be back in the comfort of your own home in a matter of a few hours. A colonoscopy usually takes an hour or less to perform and is conducted right in the doctor's office. The exam consists of a thin, long, flexible tube being inserted into the rectum. The tube has a light and camera on it, allowing the doctor to examine the inside of your digestive tract, throughout your intestines to the rectum. If an abnormality is detected during the exam, the doctor can take a small sample, send it out for analysis, and determine if it is pre-cancerous or if  colon cancer can be detected. These abnormalities typically present themselves as polyps, which are small growths in the tissue of the lining of the colon or rectum. Most of these polyps are benign, but it is possible that they may become cancerous.

Colonoscopies are simple procedures, but it is actually one of the most important tools that we have to detect and begin to treat colorectal cancer. Since this form of cancer is the second leading cause of cancer related deaths in both men and women, it’s crucial to detect early. If we can find it early, we can begin treatment and have a higher probability for success. In fact, when found early, colon cancer is over 90% curable.

What Are My Risk Factors For Colon Cancer?

Anyone can get colon cancer, and it’s prevalent in both men and women. There are certain factors like race, ethnicity, or family history which can place you at a higher risk, as well as some lifestyle choices. The factors outside of your control include family history of the disease, other cancers, or other diseases of the digestive tract. Additionally, it’s shown that African American men and women are at a higher risk, and some doctors will recommend testing prior to age 50. Lifestyle choices that place you at a higher risk for the disease include being overweight or obese, having a lack of physical activity, poor diet choices, or alcohol and tobacco use.

The current recommendations for when to begin regular colonoscopies is age 50. As long as the test comes back clear, most patients can wait for another 10 years before they have to get another one. If an abnormality is detected, your doctor will let you know what their recommendations are for further testing. There are few symptoms of early stage colon cancer, meaning that many patients don’t catch it until it’s further developed. Since many of the symptoms of colon cancer are similar to those of other GI diseases like irritable bowel syndromeCrohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis, it’s important to check with your doctor any time you notice changes in your digestive system.

Asheville Gastroenterology Associates is here to help you better understand colon cancer, how to detect it, and how to treat it. Make an appointment with us today, especially if you’re nearing 50 and have not scheduled a colonoscopy yet.