Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Colonoscopies save Lives… Just Do It!

For years, the healthcare community has known that colonoscopies reduce the incidence of colon and rectal cancer, but a recent study published in The New England Journal of Medicine provides convincing evidence that colonoscopies actually reduce mortality. The death rate in patients whose precancerous polyps had been removed who were tracked for 20 years was reduced by 53 percent – a significant reduction in cancer-related mortality.
            Holy Name Medical Center gastroenterologist Susan Fishbein, MD, commenting on the results of the research, noted that “This is very important data. It’s the first time a study has shown conclusively that colonoscopies and removal of cancerous polyps reduce mortality.   It’s proof that we all really must have colonoscopies!”
            Colorectal cancer is one of the few cancers that can be prevented by regular screening, yet it is the second most common cause of cancer-related death in the United States. Fewer than 60% of Americans over the age of 50 have had a screening colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy in the past 10 years. Dr. Fishbein laments the statistic.  “Colon cancer is a terrible disease. But it is so preventable.”
            She recommends that individuals with no family or personal history of colon cancer have a screening colonoscopy when they reach the age of 50. If the results are good, Dr. Fishbein believes it is prudent to have a second screening in seven or eight years, rather than the usually recommended 10 years, since it takes about 10 years for a normal colon to develop cancer.  If a polyp is found in the initial screening, a second colonoscopy is recommended in one to five years, depending on the pathologist’s report.  If there is a family history of colon cancer, the initial screening should occur by age 40 or 10 years earlier than the age when the family member developed cancer – whichever is younger, according to Dr. Fishbein, who has been screening patients in Holy Name’s Endoscopy Suite for more than 12 years and praises the staff as “top-notch.”
             Colonoscopy preparation requires colon-cleansing, and nourishment during prep is usually limited to clear liquids – gelatin, clear broth or black coffee. Dr. Fishbein agrees that nothing fibrous may be consumed before a colonoscopy, but she does permit consumption of anything that can melt: milk in the coffee, even ice cream or milk shakes! (A sip of milk shake would certainly make colon prep a bit more palatable for me!)
            Although we can’t change our genetic makeup or reduce all the health risks we face, it makes sense to commit to regular colon screenings. A colonoscopy can save your life. Just do it!

For a referral to Dr. Fishbein or another Holy Name physician, call 1-877-HOLY-NAME (1-877-465-9626) or visit www.holyname.org.