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Colon screening: Fight the fear factor

10 reasons to put your fears to rest

By Albert Khine, MD, gastroenterologist at The Portland Clinic.

Happy senior couple

Colon cancer screening is one of the few tools we have that can directly prevent cancer. Yet about two-thirds of adults over 50 still don’t get, or keep up with, the recommended screenings. If you’ve been afraid to make that appointment, here are 10 reasons to put your fears to rest.

1. Screening can prevent cancer.

Most colon cancers begin as small, non-cancerous growths called polyps. When we find these polyps during a colonoscopy screening, we can remove them right then and there, before they ever have the chance to turn into cancer. It’s one of the few opportunities we have to directly prevent cancer. Take advantage of it.

2. If cancer is there, the sooner you find it, the better.

Many people are afraid of finding out they have cancer. But it’s much less scary to find it early, rather than late. In its earliest stages, colon cancer can be removed simply, with a nearly 100 percent cure rate. In later stages, it grows, spreads and becomes harder to treat. Regular screening gives you the best possible chance of early detection and cure.

3. Colonoscopy is much easier than you think.

Patients often tell me how surprised they were that their colonoscopy was so easy. For most, it’s as simple as this: You receive some IV medicine to make you relaxed and comfortable. About 25 minutes later, the medicine starts to wear off and you have some juice and crackers. That’s it. If you want to watch the procedure, we can adjust your medication so you’ll be awake. You can see everything we see on the monitor as we thread a tiny camera on a narrow scope through your colon.

4. Recent advancements have made the prep much easier.

Cleansing the colon in preparation for screening is much easier today than it was years ago. The latest “prep” liquids now have less volume and are better tasting. Fasting before the procedure isn’t as bad as you think, either — you can have gelatin, popsicles, broth, coconut water and Gatorade up until the early morning of the procedure. Our staff will go over all the preparations with you in advance.

5. The benefits far outweigh the risks.

The risks involved in colonoscopy are very low. By comparison, the risk of getting colon cancer is very high: one in 19 people get it in their lifetime. It is the second leading cause of all cancer deaths. Screening prevents thousands of deaths.

6. By law, all insurers must cover colonoscopy screening.

Afraid of how much colonoscopy will cost? Recognizing the value of this screening, the Affordable Care Act requires all insurers to cover it in full. Fees will be charged only if polyps are removed or other treatment is needed.

7. Most people only have to get screened once every 10 years.

The most common form of colon cancer takes more than a decade to mature. So if your colonoscopy is clear, you won’t need another one for 10 years. Most people should get their first screening at age 50. African Americans, people with a family history of colon cancer or polyps, and people with certain medical conditions should start earlier. Talk to your doctor about when you should start.

8. Colonoscopy is not the only option.

If you just can’t get past the fear of colonoscopy, there are other approved screening methods that you can choose. Ask your doctor about your options.

9. It’s much scarier not to get screened.

Colon cancer can develop for years without any symptoms until it is very advanced. Now that’s scary. Don’t wait for symptoms to show up before you get screened. Get peace of mind now.

10. Fear of the unknown is worse than fear of the known.

If other fears are keeping you from scheduling a screening, talk them over with your doctor. Get the information you need to feel comfortable. Then get it over with. The sooner you do, the sooner you’ll find yourself wondering what you were ever so afraid of.