The Importance of a Screening Colonoscopy

If you knew that the majority of deaths from colorectal cancer could be prevented if every adult 50 years or older got tested, would you do it? Unfortunately, that message falls on deaf ears for millions of us.

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If you are turning 50 this year, be prepared to give one special birthday present to yourself – a screening colonoscopy. It may not be what you had in mind to celebrate this milestone birthday, but there are 50,000 reasons why you should consider it. That's the number of people that will die each year from colorectal cancer. It is the 2nd leading cause of cancer-related death, but it needn't be.

How, you might say, can a test that is uncomfortable, invasive, embarrassing and time-consuming be called a gift? Because a screening colonoscopy can expose a cancerous tumor currently under way, and shed light on the changes that might precede it. And by intervening early you can nip those changes in the bud, long before those potentially menacing cells become malignant.

And that's a gift worth getting.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 22 million adults ages 50-75 still need to be tested.

How Does Colorectal Cancer Play Out?

The large intestine is the last organ in the gastrointestinal system picking up where the small intestine leaves off. It is charged with removing water from the leftover solids of digestion and eliminating it as stool. Cancer can form anywhere inside the 5-foot tube that squares the abdominal cavity.

The large intestine extends up on the right side (ascending colon), making a left turn past the liver and across (transverse colon), bending down at the spleen on the left (descending colon), looping to the middle (sigmoid colon) before passing through the rectum and out the anus. (The cecum and appendix balloon off the ascending colon just below the juncture between the colon and small intestine.)