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February 28, 2017

How Your Colon Works & Why Colonoscopies Are Needed

Are you putting off getting a colonoscopy? If so, you’re not alone. Many people put off having a colonoscopy year after year because they’re worried it will be an unpleasant, even painful, experience. Although colonoscopies are not remotely painful, with every step from preparation to post-procedure care being designed for your comfort, people still firmly believe that putting off a colonoscopy is not a big deal. But the truth is, colonoscopies save lives.

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S. The estimated number of colorectal cancer cases in the United States in 2014 is: 96,800 cases of colon cancer and 40,000 new cases of rectal cancer, with 50,300 of these cases proving fatal. These numbers are startling, especially considering how many cases could be prevented with a colonoscopy.

A person’s colon, also referred to as the large intestine, is a four-six foot long tube that forms the end of the digestive tract. The colon stores food waste and absorbs water as both pass through it. When abnormal cell growth occurs in the colon’s lining, a polyp forms. You can actually have a colon polyp for a decade or more before it turns cancerous – and this is where a colonoscopy can save your life. When a pre-cancerous polyp is detected during a colonoscopy, it can be removed – and colon cancer is effectively avoided.

It’s important that people are educated about who should undergo a colonoscopy screening. Most people assume that those fifty and older should receive a colonoscopy, but there are others who are at risk for colon cancer, and they should undergo a screening as well. Additional groups at risk for colon cancer include those with:

  • Family history of colon cancer, polyps or colon cancer
  • Personal history of Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • Personal history of colon polyps
  • African-American or Ashkenazi Jewish heritage
  • Obesity, tobacco use, and heavy alcohol intake
  • Type-2 diabetes
  • High red meat or low fiber consumption or no regular physical activity

Talk to your doctor about your colon cancer risk and be sure to schedule a colonoscopy as soon as possible. Colonoscopies remain the “gold standard” for colon cancer prevention.