The Importance Of A Screening Colonoscopy


By Dr. Joel Kertznus

If you knew that the majority of deaths from colorectal cancer could be prevented if every adult of fifty years of age or older got tested, would you do it? Unfortunately, that message falls on deaf ears for millions of us.

If you are turning fifty this year, be prepared to give a special birthday present to yourself: a screening colonoscopy. It may not be what you had in mind to celebrate this milestone birthday, but there are 50,000 reasons why you should consider it. That’s the number of people that will die each year from colorectal cancer. It is the second leading cause of cancer-related death, but it sure does not need to be. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that twenty-two million adults ages fifty through seventy-five still need to be tested.

It’s not the best gift. Yet a screening colonoscopy can expose a cancerous tumor currently under way and shed light on the changes that might precede it, thus allowing early intervention long before those potentially menacing cells become malignant.

And that’s a gift worth getting! Simply stated, colon screenings have been proven to reduce colon cancer deaths by up to ninety percent.

The reason this is so, includes:

• Colon polyps, the precursor to colon cancer, most often exhibit few if any symptoms. Early diagnosis and treatment has been proven to reduce death rates dramatically.

• If discovered early, colon cancer can often be cured with surgery alone. As the cancer spreads to include larger areas of the colon and surrounding structures, the treatment is much more complicated.

• The rate of colon cancer is decreased upwards of fifty percent in those people who undergo regular colon screenings.

How often should a colon screening be done? Depending on the risk factors present, colon screening should be on a regular basis.

• In healthy people without risks, disease, or symptoms, a colonoscopy should be first performed at the age of fifty and repeated every ten years if no polyps are found.

• In high-risk patients such as those with a family history of colon cancer (first degree relative), screening colonoscopy should be started at age forty, or ten years earlier than the age the afflicted relative had when was initially diagnosed.

• On patients with diseases that increase the risk of colon cancer, such as ulcerative colitis, a colonoscopy should be done eight years after diagnosis and then repeated every one to two years.

• If there are any signs or symptoms such as rectal bleeding, a colonoscopy should be done immediately. Most screenings detect cancer, but a colonoscopy can actually prevent cancer from occurring. It should not be seen as a mere solution but as a method of prevention.

Dr. Joel Kertznus trained in Internal Medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Yeshiva University in New York City. Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Transplant Training at University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Former Faculty member at University of Massachusetts School of Medicine and University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Current practice at Digestive Medicine Associates, Miami Fl. Tel: 305 8224107 •