By Randall Kenneth Jones
We have all been there. We are having a chat with a friend who shares: sorry I can’t go with you tomorrow—I’m prepping for a colonoscopy. Then they groan—they always groan.
For those of us with a family history of gastrointestinal issues—and routinely undergo colonoscopies—we know better. There’s really nothing to groan about.
True, colonoscopy prep isn’t exactly fun. However, if you think about it, we are all experienced in matters of the commode. Each one of us has “been there and done that” countless times.
In truth, there are a variety of preparation methods for colonoscopy. These range from liquids (of varying quantity) with or without enemas, to pills. A gastroenterologists’ ability to examine a clean colon is essential—it better enables the doctor to complete a careful examination for polyps or other abnormalities.
Plus, the alternative can be far worse. In the U.S., colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed among men and women—and the second leading cause of death from cancer.
According to Dr. Alexandra Grace, a gastroenterologist at Physicians Regional Healthcare System, “Some gastrointestinal issues run in families such as gall bladder disease, polyps, inflammatory bowel disease and celiac disease. Colon cancer can also be hereditary. There is a higher incidence of precancerous polyps and colon cancer in family members with the same findings.”
Of course, one’s gastrointestinal history is not typically a part of everyday conversation; however, as your health is at stake, this information can be vital.
Does this mean you should talk to your parents and other immediate family members about their GI medical history? Absolutely, it does. This same discussion may ultimately save their life as well.
True, the examination of gastrointestinal issues is
sensitive at best. Most of us have been taught that the areas involved are private property. However, we must understand that our physicians cannot be shocked—
they have seen and heard it all. The concepts of embarrassment and/or shame cannot play a role in our collective need to seek the medical treatments we need.
In the simplest terms, colorectal cancer can typically be prevented by removing precancerous polyps—known as adenomas—during the colonoscopy before cancer even develops.
According to the American College of Gastroenterology, a colonoscopy is a procedure which enables a physician (usually a gastroenterologist) to directly visualize and examine the entire colon. It is effective in the diagnosis and treatment of various GI disorders such as colon polyps, colon cancer, diverticulosis, inflammatory bowel disease, bleeding, change in bowel habits, abdominal pain, obstruction and abnormal x-rays or CT scans as well as in providing treatment (for example, removal of polyps or control of bleeding).
No one is immune to colon cancer. Each person’s lifetime risk is approximately 5% for women and 6% for men. Important risk factors include obesity, cigarette smoking, inflammatory bowel disease like ulcerative colitis, African Americans and excessive alcohol
But how can we adjust our daily routines to (hopefully) avoid colon cancer in the first place?
“A healthy diet always helps with gastrointestinal health,” says Dr. Grace. “In fact, anything that is good for your heart is typically good for your GI tract. For example, fried/fatty foods are always harder for your body to process. A high fiber diet as well as fresh fruits and vegetables have been proven to decrease the risk of colon polyps and cancer.”
Then there’s the question: How often do I need a colonoscopy?
“This depends on your family history,” suggests Dr. Grace. “A low/average risk individual is screened starting at 50 years of age and if they have a clean bill of health on their colonoscopy, they can repeat the procedure in 10 years. It gets a little trickier if there is a family history of colon cancer or if you have polyps. At this point, you and your gastroenterologist will discuss your history and determine the timing of your next colonoscopy.”
Now, what’s the best advice for those who wish to improve their GI health? Find a gastroenterologist who is right for you. Few relationships will ever be as important as the one between doctor and patient.
To Dr. Grace: “It’s very important to see a gastroenterologist who understands your needs and can give you the best recommendations for your preventative testing. Remember the doctor/patient relationship is a team and requires a collaborative effort from both sides. Be an active participant in your health care!”
Physician Regional Medical Group
To schedule an appointment, please call Dr. Alexandra Grace’s office at 239-354-6525.