Perhaps the best gift a person turning 50 can give himself or herself is a different form of a selfie: an appointment with their personal physician to discuss and, presumably, arrange a colon-screening procedure commonly known as a colonoscopy. While it's nowhere near as much fun as blowing out candles on a birthday cake or opening cards and presents from loved ones, a colonoscopy can help increase the odds of your still being around to celebrate many more birthdays.
Colon cancer, most often found in men and women over the age of 50, and knowing no preference for any particular racial or ethnic group, is, according to the Colon Cancer Alliance, the third most common cancer in America, behind lung and prostate cancers for men and lung and breast cancers in women. Although it also is the second-leading cause of cancer death, treatment often leads to a cure if caught at an early age, with an estimated 80 percent of colon cancer deaths preventable with a regular screening test.
So, who decides to schedule them? You do! Health care professionals advise that anyone 50 and over should get a colonoscopy, the most gruesome part of which might be the 24 hours prior in prepping via a cleansing that means frequent trips to the bathroom. More recent evidence suggests that anyone 40 and over who's had a close family member (i.e., a parent, aunt, uncle, sibling or child) with colon cancer should be screened – now. Few folks who fall into this 40-50 category are getting the screenings, though: WebMD pins that number at just 38 percent. Plus, it's not enough just to know that a close relative has had colon cancer.
"You need the details – what kind, when did it start, etc.," American Cancer Society chief cancer control officer Dr. Richard Wender says, quoted at webmd.com. Dr. Andrew Chan, a Harvard Medical School professor cited an "alarming increase in the incidence of colon cancer in younger age groups," adding, at webmd.com, "The message that screening needs to start at a younger age for those with a family history may not be getting through to the general population."
Cost is also a factor. Colonoscopies are performed by specialists, usually gastroenterologists, and the delicate, high-tech procedures typically run several thousands of dollars or more. That can be exorbitant for someone either without health insurance or with a policy that carries a high deductible. Such an expensive procedure can deter many people from getting done what they should have done, especially with that nagging family-history factor.
At least in the early stages of colon cancer, there often is no physical pain indicating there might be a problem; it might get detected only by the somewhat-invasive colonoscopy procedure (with the patient typically asleep under anesthesia) in which a high-tech probe and camera is guided up through the rectum and large intestine to detect and extract polyps and other lesions lurking inside. Once the polyps are extracted, they are examined to see whether or not they are precancerous. Recent advances in technology, to include use of a Third Eye Retroscope (TER) and high-definition camera equipment have improved the effectiveness of the screenings.
Signs to watch for when it comes to colon cancer include pains or bloating in the abdomen, blood in the stool, inexplicable weight loss, diarrhea or constipation, or unexplained iron deficiency, although none of these should be in any way construed as an impending death sentence. Any or all could be symptomatic of something else; in other words, don't panic. Just don't waste any time in going to see your personal physician to discuss.
According to Medical News Today, there is no one culprit to blame when trying to figure out why one person gets colorectal cancer and another does not. Certainly, age is a factor – the older you are, the greater your chances of getting it, with 72 pegged as the average age at diagnosis. Diets high in animal protein, saturated fats and/or low in dietary fiber have been identified as possible risk factors, which suggests that chowing down on steaks and hamburgers (think red meat) and loading up on coconut cream pies and thick chocolate milkshakes five days a week might not be a healthy diet long term.
Better yet, get yourself checked out, and enjoy blowing out those candles for a long time to come.