As people get older, there is often one thing at the very bottom of their to-do list, far behind getting a root canal, doing their taxes and all the other joys that come with age — getting a colonoscopy.
It’s a dreaded word for the 50+ crowd, and the thought of the procedure brings about a myriad of excuses. But the fact remains that colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death, and putting off this valuable test could be a costly mistake.
Nearly 75 percent of all new cases of colon cancer, or cancer of the colon or rectum, occur in men and women with no known risk factors for the disease, aside from age. So the best way to discover the disease early is to have your annual colonoscopy.
And you might be surprised to find out it’s not as bad as you think. If you ask someone who has had the test recently, you’ll likely hear they don’t even remember a thing.
So, what is the magic age to start a yearly schedule of colonoscopies? For most people, it’s age 50. However, for those with a family history, a parent or sibling with the disease, screening is recommended 10 years prior to the age their youngest affected relative was diagnosed. This means if your mom was 50 when she had colon cancer, you should start getting screened at age 40.
Another benefit of the test is that if a physician does find something suspicious, it can be removed during the test.
“Often times, if surgery is necessary, colorectal surgeons can remove precancerous growths before they become dangerous, which often means no radiation therapy and no chemotherapy,” said Dawn Sears, MD, gastroenterologist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Temple.
There are steps you can take now to reduce your risk of colon cancer as you get older. Eating a low-fat, high-fiber diet, coupled with regular exercise, can significantly reduce your risk of developing the disease. Beef up your fiber intake with foods like spinach, broccoli and cauliflower. As for fruits, you can pretty much pick any kind of berry. And if you are like me, whose goal is to keep as many vegetables as I can off my plate, you can always turn to ground flax seed and supplements like Metamucil™ and Citrucel™.
So if you are 50 or older, or you have a family history of colon cancer, talk to your doctor about scheduling your colonoscopy. It might not be fun but it’s a small price to pay for your health.