A Health Exam I Didn't Look Forward to
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the US. According to the American Cancer Society, this year it’s expected to kill 49,190 people. However, if caught early enough, colon cancer is 90 percent curable. Most cases of colorectal cancer begin as small, benign clumps of cells called polyps. With time some can evolve into colon cancer.
Often colon cancer can sneak up on a body without producing any symptoms. Once developed, the cancer can spread to other organs, such as the lungs and liver through the lymphatic system.
Risk factors for colon cancer include:
- Being overweight
- Physical inactivity
- Diets high in red or processed meats
- Heavy alcohol use
- Genetic predisposition
Overall, 90 percent of new colon cancer cases and 94 percent of fatalities from the disease occur in people 50 years old and older. The disease strikes people in that age range 15 times more frequently than those who are younger, so it was with some trepidation that I went for my first colonoscopy this week.
For an entire day before, I couldn’t eat anything and was restricted to clear liquids. In the half day before the exam I drank a solution of lemon flavored GoLytely, laden with polyethlene glycol an over-the-counter constipation treatment, and salts to prevent dehydration. The drink was so effective in flushing out my system that it should be re-branded as Niagara for the flow it caused. Once I was done, I was not allowed to take any fluids for hours. In clinic I submitted to a light anesthesia and allowed an endoscope, a long, soft, bendable tube with a camera at the end to be inserted into my rectum. The good news is there were no polyps found, hence I don’t have colon cancer.
There were a couple of issues, piles, which in my case are a minor irritant, and diverticulosis, small pouches that have formed in the wall of my colon, weak spots on the intestinal walls. They do not produce symptoms, but if they were to get inflamed, they’d cause a painful condition known as diverticulitis. Diverticulosis is found in about half of men and women over 60. Luckily, about 80 percent of people with my condition never get diverticulitis.
The best step I can take to remedy my situation is to add more fiber to my diet, a minimum of 35 grams a day, so that waste passes through my colon more rapidly to lessen pressure on the weakness in its walls. I've also been advised not to push as hard when going. Also, I have to monitor myself to watch for abdominal pain and bleeding.
I write this with a sense of relief and intend to work even harder at controlling the risk factors for colon cancer. In many respects simply avoiding the behaviors known to produce colon cancer leads to good overall health.
I urge anybody over 50 to get a complete colonoscopy, not just a sigmoidoscopy which is similar, but only looks at the first five feet of the rectum and colon.
I have to admit that while anticipating the exam I felt uncomfortable, but in reality I found the procedure to be both painless and worthwhile as a preventive measure. Here’s more about what to expect:
Don't forget to watch the award winning anti-aging documentary "Reverse Aging Now," If you don't want to buy the full-featured DVD, download a digital rental of "Reverse Aging Now" for just $2.99 on Amazon.com! Photo of Paul Suchecki by Dr. Adebambo Ojuri. Colon diagram courtesy Public Health Image Library.
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