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Colon cancer: colonoscopy is essential for screening and prevention

O colon cancer It may seem like a distant concern to some, but with the growing trend of younger people being diagnosed with the disease, being informed and proactive is crucial. March marks Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, a time to educate people about this prevalent and potentially deadly disease on the rise.

As a surgeon, I am keenly aware of the impact cancer can have. I lost a dear friend — a doctor, father, and husband, just like me — to colon cancer in 2017. He was just 38 years old. His memory is a constant reminder of the importance of awareness and early detection in the fight against colon cancer.

Just a year after losing him, I started experiencing severe abdominal pain and a change in my bowel habits. It doesn't matter that I'm a urologist; Still, I panicked and feared the worst. I saw my doctor and had a CT scan, which thankfully showed no major cancers. Still, my doctor recommended that I have a colonoscopy .

I was in my 30s, so I didn't meet the criteria for a screening colonoscopy, but the doctor needed the exam for diagnostic purposes to complete my evaluation for abdominal symptoms. Technically, the colonoscopy was optional, but with my friend's memory always on my mind, I didn't hesitate.

Most of the people should start screening colonoscopies at age 45 , according to experts. A select group may need to start before age 45; Starting a conversation with your primary doctor can help with a plan for when to start and how often.

The risks of colon cancer

A American Cancer Society estimates that there will be around 106,590 new cases of colon cancer in the United States this year , almost equally distributed between men and women. The diagnosis rate for colon cancer has been declining globally since the mid-1980s, largely because people are getting screened and changing lifestyle risk factors.

However, this downward trend is mainly seen in older adults. For individuals under 55 years of age, the Rates have increased by 1% to 2% per year since the mid-1990s.

Overall, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 23 for men and 1 in 25 for women . However, each person's risk may be higher or lower than this, depending on their risk factors for colorectal cancer. Not everyone needs an early colonoscopy, but everyone should be aware of the signs, symptoms, and benefits of screening.

Understand your colon

The colon, or large intestine, plays a crucial role in our digestive system, essentially acting as the body's waste processing and recycling center. After the stomach and small intestine break down food and absorb nutrients, the colon manages what's left. Its main job is to remove water and salts from this material, turning it from a liquid state into solid waste or feces, or as my kids like to call it, poop.

In addition to waste management, the colon is also home to a complex microbiome, which plays a key role in overall digestive health, immune function, and even mood regulation. The entire colon is about 5 feet (150 centimeters) long and is divided into five main segments, with the rectum as the last anatomical segment before the anus.

That's why it's called Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and not just colon cancer awareness. Cancer can occur in any of these segments, highlighting the importance of a comprehensive colonoscopy when indicated.

The great adventure of preparing for colonoscopy

Preparing for a colonoscopy can be the most memorable part of the process. It's less of a medical procedure and more of a rite of passage. The day before, you begin drinking a bowel cleansing cocktail designed to cleanse your colon for optimal visualization during your colonoscopy.

The “preparation” is not as bad as one might think. Dehydration and exhaustion can occur, and I remember not being able to sleep the night before, still feeling the need to “go to the bathroom.” It was quite an experience, but essential for a successful colonoscopy.

The colonoscopy procedure

A colonoscope, a camera in a flexible tube, takes a “tour” of your colon, transmitting live images that allow your doctor to detect any abnormalities. It's similar to sending a rover to explore the moon or Mars.

If doctors find something suspicious, such as a polyp , they can perform a biopsy and/or remove it on site, preventing potential future complications. This proactive approach is not just diagnostic; It's a powerful form of prevention that can offer peace of mind and actionable insights into your health.

Fortunately for me, the colonoscopy revealed no signs of cancer, and my symptoms had resolved at that time. Although my procedure was primarily for diagnostic reasons, regular exams are essential for many, serving as a key preventative measure.

What should you do next?

O US Preventive Services Working Group recommends that adults between the ages of 45 and 75 undergo regular colorectal cancer screenings, emphasizing the importance of early detection.

Those at an elevated risk, perhaps due to family history or other factors, should consult with their health care provider to determine the best screening schedule and methods tailored to their specific needs.

Despite these recommendations, a significant portion of the eligible population is hesitant to participate in the exams. Some factors for this include the discomfort associated with stool-based tests, the preparation required for the procedures, and the anxiety surrounding colonoscopy exams.

This apprehension may contribute to only about 60% of people eligible for colorectal cancer screening staying up to date on recommended testing. If it weren't for my friend's memory, I would probably be in the “I'm going to skip all this” group.

In a promising development, a new blood test-based colon cancer screening test has shown a 83% effectiveness in detecting the disease according to a study published on March 13 in The New England Journal of Medicine.

This test identifies DNA markers released by cancer cells in the blood that are specific to colorectal cancer. Although it does not replace a colonoscopy, a positive result from this test indicates the need for additional tests. The hope is that once approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) of the United States, this blood test would increase screening for colorectal cancer.

If you have any abnormal symptoms in any part of your body, get tested. The sooner you do it, the more likely you are to live longer thanks to proactive care.

*Dr. Jamin Brahmbhatt is a urologist and robotic surgeon at Orlando Health and past president of the Florida Urological Society.

Source: CNN Brasil

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