Health Info & Resources for Seniors
March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month
Would you exchange a day or two of discomfort for the chance to extend your life? If yes, schedule your colorectal screening today. Colonoscopy, and other tests that screen for colorectal cancer – the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths – have been widely credited for saving lives of people over 50. And yet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 33 percent of adults aged 50 to 75 have either never been screened, or are not up to date in screening. Of those, 85 percent are insured.
“Colonoscopy is the gold standard of colorectal cancer screening because it is very effective at identifying growths called polyps that if left untreated could develop into cancer,” says Noel Martins, MD, Chief of Gastroenterology, St. Luke’s University Health Network. “Unfortunately, however, many people fear the test and put it off until symptoms appear. As a result, when they finally see a doctor, they have cancer that could have been prevented.”
To prepare for a colonoscopy, one must be on a liquid diet a day or two before the scheduled test, drink large volumes of liquid laxative and make frequent trips to the bathroom. “Although admittedly unpleasant,” Dr. Martins concedes, “studies indicate that colonoscopy is very effective in preventing cancer deaths.” During the colonoscopy, the physician places a thin, flexible tube into the rectum and colon. The tube is equipped with a camera that projects a picture of the patient’s colon onto a screen. A clean colon enables the physician to clearly see any irregular growths called polyps that could develop into colon cancer.
“Generally, patients receive anesthesia and do not feel anything during the procedure,” Dr. Martins says. “If we find any polyps we remove them and have them tested. If cancer is found, we begin treatment immediately, improving the outcome.”
Excluding skin cancer, in the United States colon cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in men and women combined. In 2019 alone, 101,420 new cases of colon cancer and 44,180 new cases of rectal cancer will be diagnosed in the United States, and 51,020 Americans will die from this disease, the American Cancer Society estimates.
The screening guidelines set the upper age limit at 75. However, the guidelines recommend colon cancer surveillance for people older than age 75 who have an increased risk of colorectal cancer, such as a family history, a previously diagnosed colon cancer or certain types of polyps. Dr. Martins suggests that people over 75 should consult their doctors.
Medicare and most third party payers usually pay for colon cancer screening, including colonoscopy. But, to be sure, contact your insurance provider to determine coverage, deductibles and co-pays.
To schedule a colonoscopy, patients may call St. Luke’s InfoLink toll-free at 1-866-STLUKES (785-8537) or visit www.sluhn.org for more information.