Q: I have a group of friends who have a lot in common. We are all in our mid-seventies, active and in fairly good shape. None of us have any chronic medical conditions other than arthritis. Two of us are soon due for a colonoscopy which neither of us are looking forward to. I have been having this test since I turned fifty and there has never been any problem detected. I admit the test was not painful but the preparation the day before was very unpleasant. We are both debating whether we want to schedule the procedure since we have been healthy. Are we using poor judgment?
A: Clearly we always steer clear of giving medical advice but on the other hand feel strongly about providing the most up to date information whenever possible. For several decades March has been known as Colon Cancer Awareness Month. The American Cancer Society estimates the number of new Colorectal Cancer diagnosed this year could reach as high as 140,000 resulting in 50,000 deaths. This is the 3rd most common cancer diagnosed in the United States. On a positive point 90% of the cases are treatable with early detection.
Dr. Samuel Whiting of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance states “there is not necessarily an appropriate time to stop screening for colon cancer”. In regards to you and your friends more than half of cases diagnosed are in people over age seventy. A concern within the medical community is people often delay screening for far too long. There are multiple screening options available. Colonoscopy is the most comprehensive exam in which the physician is able to view the entire colon. A Flexible Sigmoidoscopy enables the physician to examine the lower portion of the colon. The Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) is designed to identify traces of blood in the stool. Newer tests which may be available to you include Capsule Endoscopy, a pill sized camera which records the middle portion of the colon, DNA Stool tests, and the Virtual Colonoscopy which is a ,medical imaging procedure using x-rays producing 3 dimensional images.
You should have a discussion with your primary care physician and ask if any of the options would be suitable for you. Encourage all of your friends to take the same action.
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