Colon cancer is both common and preventable and the best way to reduce the risk of getting it is to have a colonoscopy.
That’s the thrust of a new colon cancer awareness campaign from Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.
“What we really want for everyone to understand is that colorectal cancer can affect all of us. No one is protected,” explains Dr Ammar Kheir, a gastroenterologist at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. “But the good news is, it can be easily prevented by a simple, safe, quick examination, such as a colonoscopy or even a stool test.”
While certain risk factors such as age and family history cannot be controlled, there are a number of lifestyle factors on top of regular screening that can reduce a person’s risk of developing the disease.
• not smoking
• being more physically active
• eating more fiber
• eating less red meat
The disruption to healthcare systems around the world over the last year has raised concern that people are not being screened. For example, even before Covid, only 60 percent of adults who were eligible for colon cancer screening in the US accessed it.
In the UAE, physicians recommend that both men and women begin regular screening for colon cancer from the age of 40. Those at higher risk should begin screening at a younger age.
“My message to the community is this: when it comes to colorectal cancer, we are all at risk but it is easily prevented,” says Dr Kheir. “Getting a screening colonoscopy is a quick, safe, painless procedure that can save your life.”
Here are six reasons why a colonoscopy can protect your health and decrease your colon cancer risk:
Colon cancer can happen to anyone
Colorectal cancer, also known as bowel cancer, ranks as the third most common cancer and second most common cause of cancer death worldwide. Data from the Ministry of Health and Prevention shows colorectal cancers are among the deadliest in the nation, accounting for 12 percent of cancer deaths in 2017, the last year for which national data is available.
Most people who get colon cancer are over 50. However, in the last decade, the rate of colon cancer has increased in younger adults. It can strike anyone, even otherwise healthy people with no family history of the disease.
Dr Kheir says many of colorectal cancer cases seen at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi are occurring in healthy young men and women who don’t smoke and have no family history of the disease.
“The majority of these cases could be prevented with proper screening,” he said.
Colonoscopies prevent colon cancer
Unlike many cancers, colon cancer is preventable. It starts from little growths called polyps that develop on the lining of the colon or rectum. Over time, some of these polyps can become cancerous. A colonoscopy enables doctors to spot and remove these polyps, thus decreasing the risk of colon cancer.
You cannot rely on symptoms to warn you
Colorectal cancer often presents without symptoms, making regular screening particularly important if it is to be detected in its earliest stages when 90 percent of cases can be cured.
Late symptoms of the disease include:
• blood in the stool
• changes in bowel habits (constipation or diarrhea)
• abdominal discomfort or pain
• unexplained weight loss.
Colonoscopies are not painful
People are often wary of the laxative they have to drink to prepare their bowel for the exam. However, bowel prep is much improved these days, with a much lower volume of laxative required for optimal cleansing, and it tastes better, too.
As for the exam itself, it is often done during so-called “twilight sleep,” or conscious sedation, which keeps 99 percent of patients comfortable during the exam. Most people find that it is far less unpleasant than they ever expected. Many don’t even remember it at all afterwards.
Colonoscopies are accurate
There’s a reason doctors call colonoscopies “the gold standard.” They can detect more than 95 percent of colorectal cancers and large precancerous polyps in the colon.
During a colonoscopy, polyps can be eradicated before they turn into cancer.
If you do have symptoms such as rectal bleeding, sudden change in bowel habits, unexplained abdominal pain or weight loss, a colonoscopy should be considered, so talk to your doctor about these symptoms.
Colonoscopies are safe
Despite rumors to the contrary, colonoscopies are extremely safe when performed by experienced specialists.
While there is a risk of bleeding and perforated bowel (basically, a hole poked through the colon), the risks are low. Fewer than 1 in 1,000 people experience bleeding or a perforated bowel. By contrast, about one in 22 people will develop colon cancer in their lifetime.
If you have any questions or concerns about getting a colonoscopy during the pandemic, your healthcare provider can share the steps they are taking to keep everyone safe.
• This story was provided by Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi and Cleveland Clinic.