Local Surgeon Says Colonoscopy Can Help Save Your Life

March 5, 2024

A man and woman food shopping at a grocery storeIf you’re 50 and see your doctor periodically, you no doubt have been advised to schedule a colonoscopy. But many people put off having this important procedure. Kyle Eldredge, MD, general surgery, says colonoscopies can save lives, but many people fear the preparation involved or that it will be painful.

“The preparations used now are much easier to take and don’t require you to drink as much liquid,” he says. “There is no pain involved in the procedure because you are under anesthesia. And the procedure itself only takes about 15-20 minutes.”

Colorectal cancer is the third-most-common cancer for American men and women, and the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and women in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society. It's estimated to have caused more than 52,000 deaths in 2023.

However, due to increased screenings, rates have declined for the past 20 years. Dr. Eldridge says the purpose of a screening colonoscopy is to find polyps, which are growths in the lining of the colon that can become cancerous. “We remove them before they have a chance to become cancerous,” he adds.

Are you at risk?

If you have a history of colon polyps, colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease or a family history of colon/rectal cancer, you may be at increased risk. Diets high in red meat, processed meats, low-fiber diets, lack of exercise, obesity, smoking and heavy alcohol use can also contribute to the chance of developing colon cancer. A healthy lifestyle combined with routine colon screenings can be helpful in preventing colon cancer.

Know the symptoms

Early colon cancer usually has no symptoms, which is why screening is very important. However, as the tumor grows, symptoms such as abdominal pain, which can vary in location and intensity, or a change in bowel habits, such as frequency and consistency of stool, can occur. In an advanced stage, some people can experience unexpected weight loss, abdominal distention, anemia, jaundice, passage of bloody stools, nausea and vomiting. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please consult with your doctor.

Who should be screened?

  • Patients should get their screening colonoscopy when they turn 45. However, because African Americans have a 20 percent higher incidence rate, initial screening is recommended at age 40.
  • If you have a family history of colon cancer in first-degree relatives, the screening guidelines are slightly different. It is recommended to start 10 years younger than the age of diagnosis, or age 35, whichever is earlier.
  • People who are in good health and with a life expectancy of more than 10 years should continue regular colorectal cancer screening through the age of 75.
  • For people ages 76 through 85, the decision to be screened should be based on a person’s preferences, life expectancy, overall health and prior screening history.
  • People over 85 should no longer get colorectal cancer screening.

Colon health suggestions

  • Stay away from tobacco
  • Reach and maintain a healthy weight
  • Exercise
  • Eat healthy
  • Avoid alcohol