When the governor issued an executive order in March to delay elective medical procedures, many people had to put their screening colonoscopies on hold. Now, as health care has reopened, it’s important to put your regular screenings back on the calendar.
Fears of exposure to the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 may be making some people hesitant to reschedule that important screening. But these screenings save lives. Colon cancer ranks third in the number of new cancer cases and second in the number of cancer deaths in Kentucky.
Across the country, colon cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths that affects both men and women. This type of cancer occurs when abnormal growths, called polyps, form in the colon or rectum. These polyps are often precancerous and can turn cancerous over time. Through colorectal cancer screenings, doctors can find and remove the growths before they turn cancerous.
Colon cancer screenings, which are recommended starting at age 45 or 50, are the most effective way to reduce your risk of colon cancer. A recent study by the American Cancer Society found an alarming growth in the number of colon cancer cases in adults under age 50 in the United States. In fact, we’re seeing more and more colon cancer cases with patients in their 20s and 30s.
Colon cancer screenings are especially important because the disease doesn’t always cause noticeable symptoms. When they do occur, symptoms may include blood in the stool after bowel movements, stomach aches or pains that don’t go away, unexplained weight loss and fatigue. If you’re experiencing any combination of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with your primary care physician and ask about colon cancer screenings.
People with a family history of colon cancer have a higher risk of developing colon cancer, as do individuals who don’t exercise regularly, have diets low in fruits and vegetables, and frequently use alcohol or tobacco. If you have any of these risk factors, tell your doctor and ask if they recommend a screening.
The most common screening tests administered to find precancerous polyps include stool screenings, flexible sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy. These tests are quick and easy, and cause minimal to no pain. A stool screening allows doctors to detect any traces of blood or cancerous cells in the stool. Flexible sigmoidoscopies and colonoscopies both use a thin, flexible, lighted tube to check for polyps or cancer.
We have taken steps to help ensure the safest possible environment, including pre-procedure testing for COVID-19. Make an appointment with your doctor to schedule or reschedule your screening colonoscopy.
Dr. Miller is with CHI Saint Joseph Medical Group – Gastroenterology.