By Nicole Harris, MD – Even as a primary care physician, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s easy to put off a colonoscopy. I know my patients don’t look forward to the prep and (how can I say this nicely?) the aftermath of the prep.
I’ve had countless conversations with patients when they turn 45, which recently became the new screening age instead of 50, and it’s incredible how quickly a patient’s whole demeanor can change when I mention colon cancer screening. They go from smiling and nodding to staring at me with the same horror-stricken expression my kids give me when I tell them to eat their vegetables.
I’m a tough love parent with my patients: I’m going to tell them they need to get a colon cancer screening as soon as they’re eligible, and here’s why: early detection saves lives.
Why get screened?
When colorectal cancer is found at an early stage, before it has spread, the survival rate is about 90%, according to the American Cancer Society. Unfortunately, only 40% of colorectal cancers are found at this early stage.
If you are at higher risk, you may be eligible to get screened even sooner than age 45. For example, African Americans are about 20% more likely to get colorectal cancer than most other groups. People with a family history of colon cancer are also more likely to get it. Each patient’s case is unique, so I encourage you to talk to your doctor about the right time to get screened. It’s never too early to have this conversation.
What are some symptoms you should talk to your doctor about?
No matter your age or risk level, you should also make an appointment with your doctor if you notice the following signs and symptoms of colon cancer:
- Blood in the stool
- Rectal bleeding
- A change in bowel habits that lasts more than a few days
- Abdominal pain
- Unexplained weight loss
What does the screening process look like?
The gold standard for screening is a colonoscopy. Colonoscopies are not as intimidating as you may think – they require some at-home prep followed by a brief 30-minute procedure that involves diagnosing and in some cases removing any polyps found in your colon.
Still have questions?
That’s ok! This is why talking with a doctor near you is important. The best advice I can give you is not to shy away from uncomfortable conversations with your physician.
Trust me, we’ve heard it all, and we’re here to help!
To learn more about your screening options and schedule your appointment, call 202-4YOU or visit baptistjax.com/coloncancerscreening.
Nicole Harris, MD, is a board-certified family physician with Baptist Primary Care in Jacksonville, FL.