A Colonoscopy Could Save Your Life
Why Peace of Mind Is Better Than Fear of the Unknown
Wakanda Forever! Many of you have heard that exclamation made popular in the Black Panther movie. Chadwick Boseman embodied the lead character of King T’Challa. But did you know he died at age 43 from colorectal cancer? Other famous people who succumbed to colorectal cancer include Charles M. Schulz, Audrey Hepburn, Ronald Reagan, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, to name a few.
March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. It is detectable, preventable, and treatable, yet each year, more than 140,000 new cases are reported in the United States. Here’s what we can learn about this type of cancer and how it can be prevented.
What Is Colorectal Cancer?
Colorectal cancer, sometimes called colon cancer, is a type of cancer in which cells in the lining of the colon or rectum grow out of control. (Cancer is any cell growing out of control, either benign or malignant.) The colon, also known as the large intestine or bowel, plays a vital role in the digestive system by absorbing water and electrolytes from undigested food and eliminating solid waste from the body via the rectum and anus. The rectum is the tube that connects the colon to the anus. However, these areas are also susceptible to various diseases and disorders, including colon cancer, which is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths of men and women in the United States.
What Are the Risk Factors  for Colorectal Cancer?
Some risk factors are uncontrollable, and having a risk factor does not mean you will develop colorectal cancer (and conversely, if you don’t have the risk factor, it does not mean you cannot get colorectal cancer).
Factors that may increase your risk of colon cancer that you cannot control include:
Age: As you age, your risk of getting colorectal cancer increases.
Race: African Americans are at a higher risk than other races.
Certain diseases: Your risk increases if you have a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, diabetes, or if you have certain genetic syndromes.
Family/personal history: If you’ve already had colon cancer or polyps, you have a greater risk of colorectal cancer in the future. Your family history also plays an important part – whether your parents or grandparents had colorectal cancer or polyps.
Lifestyle risk factors for colorectal cancer include a diet high in fat and low in fiber, a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, smoking, and heavy alcohol use.
How Can I Reduce My Risk of Colorectal Cancer?
Colorectal health is vitally important in maintaining overall well-being and preventing chronic illnesses. To detect and prevent colon cancer, colonoscopies have become an important tool for healthcare providers.
In addition to getting screened via colonoscopy routinely, other modifiable factors include:
Eating right: Numerous studies agree that diet has a vital role in developing colorectal cancer. A diet low in animal fats and high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains has been linked to reducing the risk of many chronic diseases, such as coronary artery disease, diabetes, and may also reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.
Getting moving: Exercising for 30 minutes or more nearly daily has been proven to reduce the risks of many chronic diseases and cancers.
Maintaining a healthy weight: Obesity increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 19%.5 Work with your doctor about healthy ways to lose weight slowly with exercise and caloric reduction.
Making healthy choices: Along with eating right and exercising, limiting alcohol consumption and avoiding tobacco can reduce the risk.
What Is a Colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy is a diagnostic procedure that enables a doctor to examine the inside of the colon and rectum using a flexible, lighted instrument called a colonoscope. This test is performed to evaluate the colon and detect cancer. The worst part for most people is the liquid "prep" needed to prep for the colonoscopy. The day before your colonoscopy, you will only be able to consume a clear liquid diet or fast, and you must drink a special laxative with large volumes of fluid to empty your bowels. The bowel cleansing and preparation has a critical purpose, as it allows your doctor to get a clear view of the colon. If you're nervous about this part of the procedure, searching for tips and suggestions on the Internet may help.
What Happens During a Colonoscopy?
As for the procedure itself, modern sedation ensures that you neither feel nor remember any part of it. After you’re sedated, your doctor will use the colonoscope to view your colon. A colonoscopy may find polyps, which are small growths on the colon wall that can become cancerous if left untreated. These can be present for years before invasive cancer develops. During the procedure, the doctor may also perform a biopsy, which involves removing a small tissue for laboratory analysis.
Why and When Should I Get a Colonoscopy?
One of the main benefits of a colonoscopy is its ability to detect colon cancer early when it is most treatable. The American Cancer Society recommends that people at average risk for colon cancer should start getting screened at age 45 and continue to receive regular screenings until age 75. However, individuals with a family history of colon cancer or other risk factors may need to start screening earlier and receive more frequent tests.
In addition to detecting cancer, a colonoscopy can also help prevent the disease from developing in the first place. If polyps are found during the procedure, the doctor can remove them, reducing the risk of them becoming cancerous. By detecting and removing polyps, colonoscopies can play a crucial role in reducing the incidence of colorectal cancer.
Many people with colon cancer experience no symptoms in the early stages of disease. Once symptoms do appear, they can vary from person to person. Talk to your doctor about your risk and when to schedule a colonoscopy. Dr. Richard Greene performs colonoscopies regularly at Hardin Medical Center and highly recommends the importance of being screened. When asked, most people say that the peace of mind that comes after having a colonoscopy is well worth the minor discomfort and inconvenience.
 “Famous People with Colorectal Cancer”. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/colorectal-cancer/ss/slideshow-famous-people-colorectal-cancer. Accessed February 15, 2023. Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What Is Colorectal Cancer? Available at https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/colorectal/basic_info/what-is-colorectal-cancer.htm. Accessed February 21, 2023.  Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Colorectal Cancer Statistics. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/colorectal/statistics/. Accessed February 21, 2023.  Mayo Clinic: Patient Care & Health Information: Diseases & Conditions. “Colon Cancer”. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/colon-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20353669. Accessed February 22, 2023.  Baena R, Salinas P. Diet and colorectal cancer. Maturitas. 2015 Mar;80(3):258-64. Available at: https://www.maturitas.org/article/S0378-5122(14)00407-1/fulltext.