Celebrities have a great capacity to bring attention to a cause or event. In 2000, Today show co-anchor Katie Couric wanted to call attention to colon cancer, since she had lost her husband to the disease. She had a colonoscopy on live television, and there was an increase in people who got screened around the country.
More recently, Dan Whitney, better known as Larry the Cable Guy, turned 50 and got a colonoscopy. He did a video about it and posted it on YouTube that went viral.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common form of cancer diagnosis in the United States, and it affects both men and women. It is one of the most treatable and preventable forms of cancer, and still almost 55,000 Americans die from this cancer each year.
March is National Colon Cancer Awareness Month, and because colon cancer is asymptomatic for most patients, being screened is the best way to detect it before it becomes advanced.
People most at risk for colorectal cancer include:
• People 50 and older
• People who have a family history of colorectal cancer or benign (non-cancerous) colorectal polyps
• People who have personal histories of inflammatory bowel disease
• People who have family histories of inherited colorectal cancer or inherited colorectal problems
If you don’t have any of those risk factors, it is recommended everyone get screened when they turn 50. The gold standard for screening is still a colonoscopy, and while the procedure may sound intimidating, it is really quite benign.
The doctor uses an endoscope, which is a flexible tube with a camera on the end, to visualize the colon and search for any polyps or tumors. Patients are put under twilight sedation to make them comfortable.
During the procedure, the doctor will remove any polyps and check them for precancerous cells. If any tumors are found that have become cancerous, surgery is usually the main course of treatment.
Overall, a colonoscopy usually takes 20 to 30 minutes, and patients are able to resume their daily activities the same day.
You should also know that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which was passed in 2010, waives the coinsurance and deductible for many colon cancer screening tests, including a colonoscopy. In 2013, clarification to the preventative screening benefits under the law means patients who have private insurance are not liable for cost sharing when a pre-cancerous polyp is removed during a colonoscopy screening.
Medicare patients are still required to pay coinsurance when a polyp is removed, but efforts are underway to change that.
Many people don’t want to get a colonoscopy because they think it will be painful or embarrassing. Don’t let your fear get in the way of taking care of yourself.
Too many people never get screened, and by the time they realize there’s a problem, their cancer is highly advanced.
Franciscan Health System has a number of locations in Pierce and King counties where people can schedule a colonoscopy exam. Visit www.fhshealth.org/cancer to find the location nearest you.Linda Pai, MD, FACS, is a board-certified general surgeon who specializes in advanced laparoscopy with Franciscan Surgical Associates at St. Anthony Hospital in Gig Harbor. For more information, call the Franciscan Physician Referral Line at 1-888-825-3227.