Medicine Today: Colonoscopy is preventative medicine

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Preventative medicine focuses on identifying disease early and limiting its progression to a serious health problem. Preventative medicine is covered by insurance and includes tests and treatments to lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

According to a new study by Stanford researchers in the journal Gastroenterology, a colonoscopy is one of the most effective preventative tests to protect against colon cancer.

Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in the U.S. and the second leading cause of cancer death. If found early, colon cancer has a 90 percent survival rate.

However, colon cancer has vague symptoms and a colonoscopy is the key to early detection. A colonoscopy consists of a physician using a thin flexible tube with a tiny camera at the end to look for cancer in the large intestine. The procedure usually takes less than 15 minutes and patients can go home the same day.

In the paper, Stanford researchers analyzed trends in U.S. colon cancer data from 1993 to 2009. They show that as the rate of colonoscopies has increased, the rate of late-stage colon cancer treatment has decreased. They argue that because colonoscopies detect and treat early cancer, fewer cases of late-stage colon cancer are occurring.

In general, patients should have their first colonoscopy at age 50. If normal, the next colonoscopy does not need to be done for another 10 years.

A common complaint with the procedure is the need to drink a gallon of prep fluid the night before to clean out the colon. As a solution, a new prep has recently been approved that requires drinking only 10 ounces.

For patients who still remain hesitant about a colonoscopy, talk with your doctor regarding alternative colon cancer screening methods, which are better than no screening.

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