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Colonoscopies, especially after 50, are important for early detection of colon cancer.
Health

Why A Routine Colonoscopy Is Essential After 50

Routine medical care is important throughout our life but is particularly important as we age. A colonoscopy is one of the recommended medical tests for everyone over 50.

What is a colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is an exam used to detect changes or abnormalities in the colon (large intestine) and rectum. Most colorectal cancer begins as an abnormal growth that develops on the lining of the colon or rectum. During a colonoscopy, any growths, called polyps, can be identified and removed during the procedure. This means that a colonoscopy can both find and prevent colon cancer.

During a colonoscopy, a thin, flexible tube with a light and a video camera on its tip is placed in your colon to search for polyps. You will be prescribed a clear-liquid diet and medication to clear out your bowel during the 24 hours before the test and you’ll be sedated during the exam. Your doctor can usually remove any polyps that are detected and send them out to the lab for further testing.

Getting routine colonoscopies helps your doctor find abnormalities early so they can be quickly treated. Regular screenings enable doctors to find and remove polyps before they have a chance to develop into cancer.

Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer first develops with few, if any, symptoms. If you experience any of the following symptoms, schedule an appointment with your doctor right away:

  • A change in bowel habits including diarrhea, constipation, or a change in the consistency of your stool
  • Finding blood in your stool
  • Persistent abdominal discomfort such as cramps or bloating
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Weight loss, nausea, vomiting

Since these symptoms are associated with many health conditions besides colorectal cancer, only a medical professional can determine the cause.

Colonoscopy Preparation

Your doctor or nurse will review all the steps of preparation, what you can expect during the procedure, and what to do after the test. Here are a few general reminders for how to prepare for your appointment:

One Day Before

  • Follow the bowel prep instructions your doctor prescribed
  • Do not consume any solid food or alcohol
  • Clear liquids (such as clear soup or chicken broth) are allowed
  • Juices (such as apple and white grape) are allowed but none that are red or purple in color
  • Dairy products should be avoided
  • Coffee or tea (with no cream) is allowed

 Day of Procedure

 At this point, your stool should be a clear or yellow liquid and you are ready for the colonoscopy

  • Do not consume any food or liquid
  • Arrange for someone to drive you home after the procedure
  • Plan to rest at home for the rest of the day after your test
  • You may feel some minor issues such as bloating or gas right after the test, but these should subside within 24 hours

 Guidelines for Screening

As we age, our risk of developing polyps increases. According to the CDC, the majority of new cases of colorectal cancer (about 90%) occur in people who are 50 or older.  

Memorial Sloan Kettering recommends that you get screened for colon cancer every ten years beginning at age 50, if you have an average risk and no symptoms. People considered average risk have:

  • no symptoms
  • no personal or family history of colorectal cancer or precancerous polyps
  • no personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s Disease

If there is a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, get screened at age 40 or 10 years before the age of the youngest case in your immediate family (mother, father, sister, brother). If you have a personal history of cancer or are at a higher risk, you may need to start screening before age 45 and have screenings more often. Consult with your doctor to determine the correct schedule for you.

Healthy Habits

While regular screenings are the best thing you can do to help prevent colorectal cancer, you may be able to lower your risk by living a healthy lifestyle:

  • Eat more fiber (fruits and vegetables)
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Eat whole grains
  • Drink low-fat or fat-free milk
  • Eat more lean proteins (chicken, turkey) and less red meat (beef, pork, lamb)
  • Avoid processed meats (hot dogs, lunch meat)
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Exercise regularly
  • Don’t smoke
  • Limit your alcohol intake
  • Monitor bathroom habits for any changes
  • Know your family history

Final Thoughts

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women and the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. About 101,000 people are newly diagnosed with colon cancer each year.

However, with proper screening, colorectal cancer is also one of the most preventable cancers. Remember, a colonoscopy can help find and treat cancer. For this reason, a colonoscopy is essential for anyone over the age of 50. Take charge of your health and book your routine colonoscopy. Even with a pandemic, it is safe to do so.

Dr. F. Clark Odom, Board Certified Colon and Rectal Surgeon, with Texas Colon & Rectal Specialist had these words of advice to offer. 

“Don’t postpone your colonoscopy due to fears about the pandemic- these procedures are done largely outside of hospitals in facilities designed to provide these types of medical procedures exclusively with the highly qualified medical personnel necessary to do your work up properly and with your safety and overall well-being in mind. Keep in mind all medical personnel should have already received their vaccinations so it’s safe on your provider’s end to make and follow through with your routine screening. Please don’t miss your chance at early detection and treatment – get regular colonoscopies.”

Read Next:

12 Medical Tests for Women Over 50

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