According to the National Cancer Institute, getting colonoscopies at recommended intervals (for most people, this means starting at age 50, and every five to 10 years thereafter if the results are normal) can reduce colorectal cancer deaths by up to 70 percent. This is possible because the procedure can catch the cancer in its earlier stages, when it's more treatable. Additionally, colonoscopies can detect and remove precancerous growths called polyps before they become malignant.
Still, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in three Americans are not getting screened for colorectal cancer in accordance to recommended guidelines. And according to Donald David, M.D., clinical professor and chief at City of Hope's Division of Gastroenterology, many reasons people have for delaying or avoiding this lifesaving test are pure myths.
In the video here, David debunks some of the common misperceptions about colonoscopies, including:
"I do not need the test until I have symptoms." According to David, colorectal cancer in its early stages often exhibits no symptoms, and by the time symptoms show (like changes in bowel habit or blood in the stool), the cancer may have already progressed to an advanced, less treatable stage.
"The procedure is painful." Patients are sedated prior to the colonoscopies and most do not even remember having gone through it, David said. He added that the most unpleasant part is usually the preparation the day prior to the procedure, which includes taking a laxative solution to clear the colon.
"Colonoscopies are costly." Most insured patients, including those on Medicare, should have little to no co-pays for colonoscopies since they are routine screening procedures that have been shown to save lives and health care costs further down the line, David said.
"I am a woman and therefore less likely to get colorectal cancer and need screenings." David pointed to statistics that show men and women are equally likely to get colon cancer, and men are only at a slightly higher risk of getting rectal cancer.
“I’m scared – the results will probably bring bad news.” Most patients leave with a very favorable prognosis, and are advised to come back every five to 10 years.
Learn more about various screening options, risk factors and prevention tips in our 31 Facts on Colorectal Cancer. Simply fill out your name and email to download the PDF.
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