UK HealthCare

Everyone Should Get Colon Cancer Screening

LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 28, 2011) — The following column appeared in the Lexington Herald-Leader on Sunday, March 27.  

Everyone Should Get Colon Cancer Screening
By Dr. David Vargas

Colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in the United States, but we can prevent this disease in nearly every case through regular screenings.

Every person should undergo regular screenings. The only questions are: “At what age you should start?” and “Which test should be used?”

Just 12 years ago, only one out of every three Kentuckians over 50 had ever been screened for colon cancer. However, recent data from   the Kentucky Cancer Registry shows screening rates have improved — from 34.7 percent in 1999 to 63.7 percent in 2008.

Over that same time, both the incidence of and deaths from colon cancer have decreased significantly.

Yet more than a third of us haven’t been screened. Why don’t all eligible Kentuckians get regular screenings for colon cancer? Maybe you’ve heard some of these reasons.  

The colonoscopy prep is terrible: It’s true — the bowel prep for a colonoscopy isn’t fun. But we’ve taken strides to make it better.

The amount of liquid a patient must drink has been cut in half. In addition, you can choose to take your bowel prep in pill form, which has shown to be as effective as the liquid in clearing out the colon.

It will be painful or uncomfortable: Patients are sedated during colonoscopies, so they should feel little if any discomfort during the procedure. Patients sometimes experience mild bloating or distension afterwards.

I don’t want to find a cancer:Colon cancer screening enables us to find pre-cancerous polyps and remove them before they   actually become cancer.

However, even if your physician finds a cancer during the screening, the prognosis is generally excellent.

I don’t want to get a colonoscopy: Although colonoscopy is the most thorough and most commonly recommended screening tool, other options are available.

Flexible sigmoidoscopy, double-contrast barium enema, or CT colonography are alternative means of screening. In addition, stool samples can be tested for blood or abnormal DNA. Ask your doctor which test is right for you.

Screenings are expensive: Insurance companies in Kentucky now are required to cover screenings for people over 50. In addition, the Kentucky   General Assembly has enacted a bill to develop a colon cancer screening program within the Kentucky Department for Public Health.

The department, along with the Colon Cancer Screening Advisory Committee, is actively seeking resources to fund screening for patients who do not have insurance.

People give many reasons for avoiding screenings, but none can justify experiencing a cancer that is preventable.

Talk to your doctor and get screened. And if you’ve already been screened, make sure that family, friends and coworkers do the same — you may very well save a life.

Dr. David Vargas is section head of colorectal surgery at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine.