Don’t Wait to Have a Colonoscopy
Colorectal cancer strikes one in every 20 Americans and is the third most common cancer in both men and women. March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness month. Know your risk factors, take some steps toward a healthier lifestyle and, most important, get screened.
WHO IS AT RISK?
Your risk of colorectal cancer increases with age. About nine out of ten people diagnosed with colorectal cancer are 50 years of age or older. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer in a first-degree relative, this can nearly double your risk. Having a personal history of polyps or inflammatory bowel disease increases your risk, as well as being African American or of Ashkenazi Jewish descent.
Gastroenterologist Gabriel Herman, MD encourages his patients to follow these preventive strategies:
- Maintain a healthy weight and eat a low fat diet. Obesity can be a predictor of colorectal cancer.
- Include folic acid in your diet, either through supplements or by eating leafy vegetables.
- Quit smoking. Long-term smokers are more likely than non-smokers to develop and die from colorectal cancer.
- Exercise. If you are not physically active, you have a greater chance of developing colorectal cancer.
- Drink alcohol in moderation or not at all. The American Cancer Society reports that heavy drinking has been linked to colorectal cancer.
- Take a baby aspirin once a day. Data has shown that this regimen can reduce risk by 15 percent to 25 percent and is recommended for those who are considered to be higher risk or have a history of polyps. Talk to your physician before beginning any new medications.
HAVE A COLONOSCOPY
“There are multiple options for colorectal cancer screening, but in my mind, colonoscopy is the best,” says colorectal surgeon Shafik M. Sidani, MD. Dr. Sidani recently joined the Virginia Hospital Center Physician Group and has a particular interest in the treatment of colon and rectal cancer. “That is the one I want for myself, my family members and friends.” Colorectal cancer is highly preventable. It usually begins as a precancerous polyp that becomes a cancer over time. Precancerous polyps are found in 25 percent of men and 15 percent of women.“Not only can the polyps easily be seen during a colonoscopy, they can be removed during the procedure as well before they can become a cancer. Most of these polyps are asymptomatic. By the time symptoms occur, it could be too late,” explains Dr. Sidani.
FOLLOW THE PREP
“The more clearly the gastroenterologist can see during a colonoscopy, the more you can cure and prevent,” Dr. Herman says. Cleansing the colon requires adhering to a liquid diet the day before and following your doctor’s instructions carefully when taking the prep medication. “In our practice, we have found that splitting the prep — taking half the day before and half the morning of the procedure — results in a higher quality colonoscopy,” adds Dr. Herman.
There is even a Smart Phone app for colonoscopy prep. Simply put in the date of the colonoscopy, the type of prep prescribed and follow the prompts. “The results have shown that people who used the app had a significantly cleaner colon,” Dr. Herman says.
Still, many people who should be screened haven’t had a colonoscopy. “The preparation is easier today than in years past, the actual procedure only requires one day off from work, and it’s done under sedation so you won’t feel a thing. But most importantly, it can save your life,” says Dr. Sidani.
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