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Gunnison Valley Hospital offers lifesaving advice on colon cancer prevention

Some reluctance to schedule a colonoscopy examination is understandable, but it can be lifesaving. And, says Cheryl Hansen, registered nurse and OR nurse manager at Gunnison Valley Hospital, “It’s not as bad as some think. In most cases the patient isn’t even aware of the procedure.”

A colonoscopy is a medical procedure that views the rectum and inner lining of the colon or large intestine for the purpose of early detection of precancerous growths or polyps. Colorectal cancer, or colon cancer, in uncontrolled cell growth in the color, rectum or appendix. And, if left undetected, it can result in death.

Last year there were 142,820 new cases of colon cancer reported in the United States. There were also 50,830 deaths related to colon cancer reported. It is estimated that about 1 in 20 people will be diagnosed with colon cancer during their lifetime. And there are approximately 1.2 million people currently diagnosed with certain stages of colon cancer.

Early detection is really the key to surviving colon cancer, notes Hansen. Statistics show the five-year survival rate of patients at the earliest stages of colon cancer is 74 percent, whereas the five-year survival rate of patients with stage five colon cancer is only 6 percent. “Colon cancer, if detected early, is highly treatable. The more advanced it becomes, the less treatable it becomes, which is why it is so important for both men and women, starting at age 50, to schedule a colonoscopy examination,” she notes.

The recommended age to begin testing is 50. However, if there is a history of colon cancer in the family or symptoms begin to manifest themselves, then it may be advisable to begin testing early. “Under these circumstances or if polyps are detected, a patient should seek advice from their doctor; a doctor may recommend examinations every six months, year, or five years,” she adds. The general rule is from age 50 on, a patient should schedule a colonoscopy examination every five years.

As noted, the examination itself is typically simple and painless. The patient is sedated and a thin tubular instrument called a colonoscope is used. A small camera on the colonoscope gives the doctor a view of the rectum and the colon. The entire length of the large intestine can be examined, and if a suspicious growth is observed, a tiny tissue sample can be obtained for later examinations. In some cases, if detected, tiny polyps can be removed using the colonoscope. “Some people have heard horrible stories about the preparation and procedure, so they’re afraid,” explains Hansen. “Or they believe they should wait until they’re older or think because there’s no family history of colon cancer or they have no symptoms that they don’t need to undergo the examination. True, the preparation is no fun, but it can lead to the detection of cancerous polyps that can be treated in the early stages. It comes down to a matter of life and death in some cases.” Preparation requires the bowels to be cleansed 24 to 48 hours before examination.

Hansen says the doctors at Gunnison Valley Hospital ask the patient to take a laxative the evening before and not eat 24 hours before the examination. Patients can drink clear liquids up to six hours before the procedure. And, as noted, the patient is generally completely unaware of the procedure itself. Hansen does warn individuals that if they do encounter telltale symptoms, they should immediately contact their doctor. Those symptoms include rectal bleeding, a change in bowel habits (like persistent diarrhea), a decrease in blood count due to a loss of iron, significant weight loss, or chronic unexplained abdominal or rectal pain. During the examination, doctors can also check for other bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Doctors recommend after the examination that patients take it easy and rest that day, but they can resume regular activities the following day. Hansen said there are five doctors at the Gunnison Valley Hospital that specialize in colonoscopy examinations. Individuals can contact the hospital or their primary care physician for more information on colonoscopy examinations.

For more information or to schedule a colonoscopy, call Gunnison Valley Hospital at (435) 528-7246.