Gastroenterologist: Colon cancer impacts everyone, don’t delay on preventative screenings

Over the past two years, the pandemic may have caused quite a few changes in your day-to-day life. Travel plans were cancelled, a lot of people worked from home, and you might have even had to isolate from your loved ones.

Another concerning item to add to the list is that you may have delayed regularly scheduled health care appointments.

It’s time to get back to your regular preventative screening appointments and with March being Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, it is the perfect opportunity to schedule your next colonoscopy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer and the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. However, the earlier abnormalities are detected, the easier they are to treat increasing your chances of survival immensely. 

When to Schedule a Colonoscopy

Everyone is at risk of developing cancerous cells or growths in the colon, otherwise known as colorectal cancer. It is advised to start having colonoscopies by the time you turn 45, as the older you get, the more at risk for colorectal cancer you become. 

However, there are some special cases in which you should start screenings earlier in life. If you have a direct family member (parent, sibling, or child) that has had colorectal cancer or polyps in the colon, it is likely that you fall under one of these cases. It is crucial to let your doctor know of your family’s medical history related to colorectal cancer, as well as any other familial medical issues, to ensure you get the specific preventative care you need.

It is also important to continue screening colonoscopy on a regular basis, even if abnormalities are not found in previous appointments. In many cases, colorectal cancer does not show symptoms until it is at an advanced stage and more difficult to beat. 

For awareness, some common symptoms of colon cancer include:

  • Blood in stool or rectal bleeding
  • Everchanging/inconsistent bowel movements
  • Painful cramps, gas, or other kinds of abdominal discomfort
  • Feeling like you still have to go even after emptying bowels
  • Inexplicable weight loss, weakness, or fatigue

What to Expect

A colonoscopy is a preventative exam used to identify discrepancies in the rectum or colon (large intestine). After anesthesia is given through an IV, a flexible tube is inserted in the rectum to view these possible abnormalities with a focus on the intestinal lining. If any growths or polyps are detected, they will be removed and analyzed for cancer. The entire procedure may only take about 30 to 60 minutes to complete.

People are less enthused to get colonoscopies not for the procedure itself, but for the preparation of the procedure the day before. This preparation has improved over the years. The goal is to clean out the bowels as best as possible to allow your doctor to have a clear view of your rectum and colon. This involves a special diet to follow including a laxative or liquid prep solution. If the diet is not followed, it becomes more difficult for health care providers to accurately detect cancer.

Colorectal cancer has a 90% chance of survival if detected early. This is possible with regularly scheduled colonoscopies, and it is vital that you take advantage of this life-saving technology. Talk to your doctor about any colorectal concerns and when it is time to schedule your colonoscopy screening. If you have had a colonoscopy before and have not been keeping up with your regular screening, talk to your doctor to get back on the schedule. That conversation could save your life so don’t delay.


Heather Gerst, DO, is with UPMC’s Digestive Disease Center and sees patients at UPMC Williamsport, 700 High St., Williamsport, and UPMC Outpatient Center, 1 Outlet Lane, Suite 400, Lock Haven. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Gerst, call 570-321-3454. For more information, visit UPMC.com/DigestiveNCPA.

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  • On the PULSE is an online media outlet in Northcentral, Pennsylvania. We specialize in in-depth journalism, human interest content and video features. Our mission is to build engagement in community through local news.

On the PULSE

On the PULSE is an online media outlet in Northcentral, Pennsylvania. We specialize in in-depth journalism, human interest content and video features. Our mission is to build engagement in community through local news.