Written By: Melissa M. Murphy, MD, Executive Chief of Surgery, Care New England Health System; Chief of Surgery, Kent Hospital on September 7, 2021
The question, "why should I get a colonoscopy" is a question I am frequently asked as a colon and rectal surgeon, says Melissa M. Murphy, MD, Executive Chief of Surgery, Care New England Health System; Chief of Surgery, Kent Hospital.
And the simple answer is yes, as it could save your life. Recently, I saw a young woman, referred to my office, for hemorrhoids. She reported that she had been bleeding and having rectal pain for about a year but didn’t want to bother her doctor during the COVID pandemic. When she didn't get better, and the issue didn't resolve to her satisfaction, she finally sought help. After our exam, our conversation took a drastic change, and instead of talking about hemorrhoids, we were now talking about cancer.
The rate of colon cancer in younger patients (younger than 50 years old) is increasing and we (the medical community) do not know why. The American Cancer Society recently updated its recommendations and now recommends patients get their first colonoscopy beginning at the age of 45 instead of 50 years old. Most people in their mid-forties are not thinking about cancer prevention, because they are busy with work and kids and the daily activities of life. I know this because I’m in that age range. However, we all must be vigilant about our health and well-being, so we can continue to enjoy the best quality of life possible.
People should be aware that even when they feel fine, without symptoms, they could have a colon polyp. A colon polyp is a small clump of cells that forms on the lining of the colon. Many of these colon polyps are harmless, but some, if left unchecked, can develop into cancer. If caught early, however, polyps can be removed BEFORE they become cancerous and colon cancer can be PREVENTED. This is the best outcome for everyone involved.
People often say they feel embarrassed to talk about colon polyps and colon cancer, but we should all feel comfortable talking to our family members and loved ones about it for support and guidance. It's also important to note that if you have a strong family history of colon cancer you may be at increased risk and may need a colonoscopy earlier than the age of 45, so be sure to talk to your doctor about your risk factors.
Colon cancer is preventable! A colonoscopy is a great tool medical experts use to prevent cancer. If you are 45 years old or older, have a strong family history, or are having symptoms in including rectal bleeding, rectal pain, or weight loss, please talk to your primary care doctor about colon cancer screening. It can save your life!
Melissa M. Murphy, MD,
Executive Chief of Surgery, Care New England Health System