By Martha Hunt, MA
Health Promotion and Wellness
Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer in males, fourth in females in the U.S. It is estimated that in 2010 there were 102,900 (colon) and 39,670 (rectal) new cases and 51,370 (colon and rectal combined deaths. Among both men and women, incidence rates have fallen steadily since 1985.
There are two reasons why you may need a colonoscopy which is a form of colon cancer screening. First of all, a colonoscopy will help test for and maybe help prevent colorectal cancer. Secondly, when you access the age or risk appropriate annual screening that you need, you bring funds into the Naval Hospital so that we can continue to offer the same high quality care we now provide. Remember, there is no free lunch in life and when you do not access the annual tests needed for your gender and age, then not only are you putting your health at risk but Navy Medicine can then cut our budget impacting the staffing and services we offer.
What is a colonoscopy? -- Colonoscopy examines the entire colon with the use of a flexible tube with a camera at one end. The test generally lasts about 30 minutes, is safe and usually painless. There may be some discomfort, but you are usually given a sedative to help you to relax.
Colonoscopy is usually needed only once every 10 years if the test results are normal.
Colonoscopy detects more than 95 percent of early colon cancer. Colonoscopy is the only test that can also prevent cancer because the doctor can remove polyps – small growths that may develop into cancer if left alone – before they turn into cancer. Other colon cancer screening tests do not examine the colon as thoroughly or remove polyps.
What are the risk factors for colon cancer? -- Being over age 50 is the leading risk factor for colon cancer as more than 90 percent of colon cancers occur after age fifty. Also, if you have ever had anyone in your family with colon cancer, your risk is very high. If you have a family member with colon cancer, your provider may even suggest a colonoscopy well before age fifty.
Other risks for colon cancer include tobacco use, obesity, being either African American or of Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish ancestry. Having other colon diseases such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease may also increase your risk of developing colon cancer.
There are other tests for colon cancer screening that are less invasive but they may not be as accurate as colonoscopy or TRICARE may not pay for them. Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) and Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) Tests are tests that check for hidden blood in the stool. This test should be done every year. Sigmoidoscopy is a test similar to colonoscopy but because it examines less than half of the colon (not the entire colon as colonoscopy does), it can miss some cancer. This test should be done every 5 years.
How can you lower your risk of developing colon cancer? -- Stop using tobacco. You can talk to your provider about medications that can help and call health promotions at 830-2814 to receive counseling that can help you change how you deal with stress. If you don’t change how you deal with stress, you may find it hard to get completely off tobacco. Maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly with at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity (such as a brisk walk) at least 5 days a week. Also, eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables will help prevent colon cancer.
If you have any of the risk factors for colon cancer, ask your primary care provider about colonoscopy. If you would like to meet with one of our specialists regarding colon health screening, you can call the general surgery clinic at 760-830-2070 to schedule an appointment - no referral from your primary care provider is necessary for this appointment. And remember, the more age and risk appropriate annual testing you take advantage of, the better your health and the more funds that are given to the naval hospital. This increased funding then allows us to maintain or expand the staffing and services we offer.