Under the Affordable Care Act, more Americans will have better access to colonoscopy. A major tool in preventing colorectal cancers, the next question is - who really needs it?
“We always say the common symptom for colon cancer is no symptoms at all, because polyps don't give you any symptoms,” says colorectal surgeon Dr. Valerie Dyke who is on staff at Lee Memorial Health System. “And so a lot of people avoid colonoscopy.”
It’s estimated more than half the people who could benefit from the screening, skip it. Thomas Hayes was one of them. Almost a decade later than recommended, his first colonoscopy revealed cancer.
“If I had the means to get a colonoscopy i would have done it years ago,” says Hayes.
The most current guidelines have most people getting their first colonoscopy at age 50. People with a first-degree family history should be screened at 40. People with the genetic defect commonly called Lynch Syndrome should begin at 20 or 25. Anyone who suspects symptoms should consult their doctor.
“Symptoms would be like bleeding, pain, changes in bowel habits, changes in menstrual periods. But all of those things are actually infrequent and show very advanced cancer. Most people don't have any symptoms at all that's why it’s important to know your family history and get the right screening,” says Dr. Lynch.
It was better late than never for Thomas. During a colonoscopy doctors look for polyps. If they find one, they remove it, preventing cancer from forming. Thomas was told by his surgeon that his cancer was already at stage 2.
“He said you’re just lucky it didn’t go anywhere, it stayed where it was. He said this was a very old tumor.”
Eighty-five percent of colon cancer patients have no family history, so the answer to the question ‘who needs it?’ We all do at some point.