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House Calls: On colon cancer

Colon cancer is a cancer arising from the large intestine. It is the third leading cancer in males and fourth in females.

Most cases of colon cancer start as polyps or clumps of cells. Polyps may be small and produce few symptoms. Routine colonoscopies will pick up these polyps that are not causing any symptoms. Removing polyps before they become cancerous is important.

Signs and symptoms of colon cancer are as follows: change in your stool, blood in the stool, abdominal pain, weakness, and unexplained weight loss. There are many things that increase your risk of colon cancer such as age greater than 50, Chron’s disease, ulcerative colitis, family history of colon cancer or polyps, low fiber and high fat diet, lack of exercise, diabetes, obesity, smoking and alcohol consumption.

If you develop signs and symptoms that make you suspicious you should consult your doctor. He or she will do a history and physical on you to determine your risk factors and chance of colon cancer. A rectal exam may be performed to determine if you have blood in your stool. A colonoscopy may be ordered. A colonoscopy uses a long, slender tube attached to a video camera that is placed in your colon to look for anything suspicious. If any areas are found, removal of the suspicious area may be performed, as well as a biopsy. This test is usually performed by a gastroenterologist or surgeon.

If cancer is found, removal is the best treatment. Sometimes, if found early, removal during the colonoscopy can be performed. If the cancer is larger, than part of your colon in addition to the cancer may be required. If the cancer has spread to other areas or lymph nodes then chemotherapy and radiation may be needed.

Regular colonoscopies should be performed. If you are 50 years old a screening scope is recommended. If the scope is normal it should be repeated in 7-10 years. If a polyp is found it should be repeated in 3-5 years. You may need to get a scope more frequently or earlier in life depending on your symptoms and risk factors.

A colonoscopy is easy. I had my first one last week. I have heard all the horror stories and the complaints about the prep the day before. It wasn’t that bad.

You begin drinking the prep the day before to clean you out. You drink clear liquid the day before. You are tied to your house for the afternoon before the exam due to diarrhea. The scope is usually done in the morning because you are unable to eat or drink anything after midnight. You are asleep during the procedure and are usually give Propofol or Versed. These are both drugs that put you asleep and keep you from remembering the procedure.

The scope last anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, depending on what they find. Then you go home. I was not sleepy at all after my scope and even went out to eat after it. It was easy. Each person may have a different experience. There have been many improvements in the procedure through the years.

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