October 23, 2018

Why You Shouldn’t Wait to Get a Colonoscopy

By Martin Palmeri, MD

“I wish I had my colonoscopy.” It’s not something you hear every day. Considering only 30 percent of Americans who should have a colonoscopy get one, many people probably regret pushing their colon screening to the side when they find themselves with an ostomy bag or colon cancer later.

A colonoscopy is a procedure that can detect precancerous lesions and abnormalities in the colon. Precancerous lesions are mushroom-shaped masses (polyps) that are at high risk for turning into cancer if they are not removed. During a colonoscopy, these polyps can be discovered and removed on the spot — essentially preventing cancer or a long road of potential treatments. When a polyp is removed before it turns into cancer, further treatment generally isn’t needed — no surgery, no chemotherapy, no ostomy.

Typically, a polyp takes 5 years to turn into cancer. We recommend people at age 50 get a colon cancer screening because most colon cancers are diagnosed in a person’s mid to late 50s.

As a nation, we could see a dramatic decline in colon cancer if more people went for their colonoscopies.

If there is no way to convince you to get a colonoscopy, there are other options; however, colonoscopies are the most effective way to detect polyps and prevent cancer. Other tests are not as effective at finding precancers but are still better than doing nothing at all. The next best test after a colonoscopy is a Cologuard test, which can detect colon cancers from a stool specimen. But if the Cologuard test is positive, a patient still must have a colonoscopy.

I tell my patients who are leery about getting a colonoscopy that I will treat you the way I treat my family. (And by the way, all of my family members go for their colonoscopies!)

Talk to your primary care provider about getting a colon cancer screening. If you need a primary care provider, you can find one and make an appointment online at missionhealth.org/providerfinder.

Martin Palmeri, MD, MBA, is affiliated with Cancer Care of WNC, seeing patients every Tuesday at the practice on the campus of Mission Hospital McDowell in Marion. To schedule an appointment or for questions, call 828-281-3854. 

Learn more about cancer care at Mission Health at missionhealth.org/cancer.