March is National Colorectal Cancer Month, and we have two messages for you:
1. Colonoscopies are not as bad as you think.
2. When it's your turn, don't hesitate to get the screening.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the U.S. and the second-leading cause of cancer death, according to the Colorectal Cancer Alliance. Colorectal cancer refers to cancer in the rectum or colon, which is part of the large intestine or large bowel.
It affects men and women of all racial and ethnic groups and is most often found in people 50 years or older. However, incidences in those younger than 50 are on the rise. This disease kills more than 50,000 people every year.
The good news is that most colorectal cancers is very treatable when caught early. And it can be caught early. The cancer develops first as polyps, which are abnormal growths inside the colon or rectum that may later become cancerous if they are not removed.
Colonoscopies are procedures that do just that: They detect and remove polyps.
So if you're 45 or older, talk to your doctor about when you should get screened.
There's been a lot said about the procedure. In our experience, the fear-factor has been greatly overblown. Here's what happens:
The procedure involves two parts: the preparation and the procedure. For the preparation, you drink something they call "prep" that tastes like a 4-year-old's attempt at making Gatorade. Then you're in the bathroom until your colon is — how do we say this delicately? — cleaned out.
That's the part that's no fun. The second part is easy. You lay down on an exam table and, after getting anesthesia, you're out like a light. Less than an hour later, you wake up, no worse for the wear other than a little drowsiness.
Then, you get the results — were there polyps, and were they removed? — and you have someone drive you home. (Remember, you're still drowsy.)
So do yourself a favor, and don't ignore your doctor's advice when you're due for a colonoscopy.
And before you undergo the procedure, we recommend reading Pulitzer Prize humor columnist Dave Barry's 2008 column on the subject. You can find it at miamiherald.com/living/liv-columns-blogs/dave-barry/article1928847.html.