This will kill an estimated 50,630 people in 2018
Colon cancer will be the cause of death for more than 50,000 people this year, according to the American Cancer Society. They also estimate that this year alone, over 97,000 new cases of colon cancer and over 43,000 cases of rectal cancer will be diagnosed.
But the disease is also one of the most preventable forms of cancer because it typically starts as a slow-growing lesion in the colon, called a polyp, which can be easily detected by screening tools such as a colonoscopy.
In fact, colon cancer can be prevented 95 percent of the time if caught early enough, before polyps turn cancerous.
Yet because of the not-so-pleasant images that come to mind when some people hear the word “colonoscopy”, some will avoid it. In 2014, according to the CDC, only 65.7 percent of adults in the U.S. were up-to-date with their screenings.
Which is why experts have a very important message for their patients: a colonoscopy and its associated preparation is more tolerable than you think.
“Many new advancements in the procedure and prep make it much more tolerable for patients going in for their first, second or fifth colonoscopy,” says Dr. Asif Lakha, a gastroenterologist with Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill. “Certain prep solutions are now available in which the active medication is 16-32 ounces, and the rest of the preparation liquid can be a clear liquid of the patient’s choice, which makes it much more palatable.”
It’s important to note that these solutions are not for everyone, and whether you are a candidate can depend on your medical history, explains Dr. Lakha. But there’s another development in colonoscopy prep that can make it easier.
“It’s called the split dose prep, where 2-3 liters of prep solution is taken the evening before the procedure, and 1-2 liters is taken the morning of the procedure,” says Dr. Lakha. “This makes it easier for patients who have trouble taking down the whole 4 liters at once.”
In terms of the procedure itself, colonoscopies only take about 30 minutes. If a polyp is found, it may take longer, but the good news is that most polyps can be removed during the same procedure, says Dr. Lakha.
“In addition, most colonoscopies involve little to no discomfort due to the sedation provided as part of the procedure,” explains Dr. Lakha.
And while most fear they’ll need a colonoscopy every year after the age of 50, you may actually only need one every 10 years if your first test results are normal or your physician determines you don’t have any high-risk factors that require annual testing.
The quality of your prep may also affect when you have to return for your next screening.
“The quality of prep is an important factor in the ability of colonoscopy to detect polyps and other lesions,” emphasizes Dr. Lakha. “A good prep allows for a higher polyp (adenoma) detection rate, which is directly linked to decreased colon cancer risk. A good prep also allows for the maximum interval before you need another colonoscopy.”
So the key takeaways: it doesn’t take very long, the prep might be easier than you think, most polyps can be removed on the spot and you may not have to return for up to 10 years after the initial colonoscopy if you prepare properly.
Take our Colorectal Health Assessment to determine your estimated lifetime risk.
About the Author
Jacquelien Hughes is the manager, media relations at Advocate Aurora Health. Previously, she was the co-managing editor of Advocate health enews. She earned her BA in psychology at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Jackie has 10 plus years experience working in television and media and most recently worked at NBC 5 in Chicago. In her free time, she enjoys swimming, going to the movies and spending time with her family.