A colonoscopy is a lifesaving procedure and a necessity for nearly everyone at some point in life. Yet people aren't lining the halls of the hospital, eagerly awaiting their turn. For many, it sounds painful and embarrassing.
Though there may be jokes and puns aplenty, the state of your colon is not something to take lightly. Colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States among men and women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For men, who die around an average of six years earlier than women, the risk is greater. The only way to change this statistic is to make your health a priority and to take preventive measures, such as undergoing a colonoscopy.
Here are four reasons it is important to get a colonoscopy.
Colon cancer is common
Colon cancer is so common that experts recommend anyone over age 50 get tested, even if they don't have symptoms, according to Dr. Angeli Chopra, a gastroenterologist at TriHealth Digestive Institute. During the procedure, your doctor will look for growths that look like cancer or could become cancer. If caught early, colon cancer's five-year survival rate is 90 percent.
Colon cancer runs in families
If you have a family history of colon cancer, your chance of being diagnosed doubles. If a first-degree relative was diagnosed with colon cancer before age 65, a colonoscopy is necessary once you are 10 years younger than they were upon being diagnosed, Chopra said.
"If Mom was diagnosed at 50, you actually need to come at age 40 for your colonoscopy," Chopra said.
If you've been diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease, such as colitis or Crohn's disease, you also need to start screening earlier than 50.
Colon cancer can occur randomly
It is important to pay attention to troubling symptoms, regardless of family history or a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease. Symptoms that warrant a visit include abdominal pain, changes in bowel movement, weight loss, blood in your stool, or black and tarry stools, according to TriHealth.
Chopra was inspired to study gastroenterology after her father's diagnosis.
"He just wrote it off for six months because he kept telling my mom ... it's probably just hemorrhoids," Chopra said. "... When my mom finally pushed him to get checked out, he actually had a pretty bad colon cancer."
There was no history of colon cancer in Chopra's family.
Colonoscopies are simple and noninvasive
No matter your reason for needing a colonoscopy, it's a simple procedure, not surgery, Chopra said. The preparation — skipping solid food for one day and taking a bowel prep — may cause anxiety, but it's improved over time.
"Even during my own fellowship training, I've seen that the prep has decreased markedly in volume," Chopra said.
Additionally, there aren't many preventable cancers, as most occur without warning. Colon cancer is one of the few that can be prevented so, while a colonoscopy may not sound fun, it's much easier and more comfortable than dealing with cancer.
Chopra, whose father has been cancer-free for 13 years, encourages people to take control of their health and pay attention to symptoms. For those who are hesitant, she has one question: "Do you have something to live for?"
If the answer is yes, this simple procedure that can take as little as 20 minutes, could save your life.