Colon cancer is one of the most diagnosed cancers in the US, and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the country. Each year, nearly 140,000 are diagnosed and more than 50,000 will die from the disease. But colon cancer differs from other deadly cancers because there’s a screening that is able to detect and address the early signs of the disease before it turns into cancer: the colonoscopy.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that up to 60 percent of colon cancer deaths could be avoided with regular colonoscopies, which detect abnormal precancerous cells and remove them before they become malignant. Yet, many people don’t adhere to the recommended colonoscopy schedule. The Colon Cancer Alliance found that the number one reason people avoid colonoscopies was fear – of finding out they’re ill, as well as the procedure itself and the colonoscopy prep that’s required.
What we know for sure though is that following the screening guidelines for your age and risk level will greatly diminish your chances of developing colon cancer. Most people should undergo a colonoscopy every ten years once they reach age 50, but talk to your doctor about whether your age, family history, health history, or lifestyle put you at a greater risk. While the procedure doesn’t sound pleasant (it involves the doctor sending a small camera attached to a flexible tube through your anus to view your colon and rectum), most people who’ve experienced it say that they felt no discomfort and found the steps to prepare more unpleasant.
Before the test, you must completely clear out your intestines through colonoscopy prep:
Polyethylene glycol electrolyte solutions (PEG-ELS): In addition to following a clear liquid diet one day prior to the procedure, you may be asked to drink this solution. You should start drinking eight ounces of the fluid every 15 minutes the evening before the procedure. The full amount can be split between an evening and morning dose. These solutions are generally safe and efficient, however many patients find this to be the worst part of the experience.
Sodium phosphate tablets: Another option other than the liquid solution is sodium phosphate tablets. You’ll take a series of tablets the evening before and a few hours prior to their procedure. These tablets are efficient and more tolerable for many patients, however this option is not for those with cardiac or kidney diseases.
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Sources: cdc.gov, ccalliance.org, nytimes.com, and nih.gov