Craig M. Stein, MD, is a gastroenterologist at Banner Baywood Medical Center. For more information on this topic, talk with your doctor or call Dr. Stein’s office at (480) 985-1700.
Question: I'm almost 50 years old and I know my doctor will recommend I get a colonoscopy. Why is this test important?
Answer: One of the most challenging aspects of colon cancer is that it is often a “silent” cancer. A person with colon cancer could have the disease for many years before experiencing any symptoms. Yet, if caught in its earliest stages, colon cancer is typically treatable and patients can go on to enjoy healthy lives. A colonoscopy is an extremely effective screening tool for colon cancer, particularly for people over the age of 50, those who smoke or are obese, and individuals with African-American heritage or a family history of this cancer.
Colon cancer develops from polyps, which are small growths of tissue along the lower digestive tract. During a colonoscopy, polyps can be identified, removed and tested to determine if they are cancerous or not. Removing these polyps can help prevent them from becoming problematic in the future. In addition to the cancer prevention benefits of a colonoscopy, the procedure can also help diagnose any other intestinal issues that might be present before these conditions worsen.
While men and women have the same risk for developing colon cancer based on gender alone, other factors can elevate risk. Older people have a greater incidence of colon cancer, and obesity and a history of smoking increase the chances of getting it. Colon cancer is also more likely to occur in African-Americans and in families, so if an immediate family member has had the illness, the risk is higher for individuals related to that person.
Patients should talk with their doctors about when to start colonoscopy screening based on their health status, lifestyle choices and family history. Getting a regular colonoscopy is the key to preventing colon cancer and giving patients peace of mind about their digestive health.