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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

My father has been dead for 30 years, and I miss him still. I wish he were here to tend his roses, to hug his grandchildren, to walk me down the aisle for my second marriage. I wish he and my mother had been able to enjoy a cozy retirement together.

He died when he was younger than I am today — a seemingly healthy and vigorous middle-aged man who did everything he knew to remain well. He quit smoking in his 30s; he exercised faithfully; he got his annual checkup. And the fact that his death was probably preventable makes it all the more tragic.

My dad died for want of a simple diagnostic test: a colonoscopy, the gold standard for detecting colon cancer. But back in the 1980s, medical science didn’t broadly disseminate news of its importance. Colon cancer, unlike most types, is largely curable when detected early, according to the American Cancer Association.

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and every year I do what I can to make sure families don’t endure the awful grief that haunts my family still. So here’s what you need to know: If you are 50 or older and you’ve never had one, get a colonoscopy. (If you have a family history of the disease, you may need to start your screenings sooner.) Make sure your spouse gets one. Make sure your parents do.

Writing in Slate, physician Rebecca Moss recently lamented the fact that so few Americans get screened for colon cancer when it’s recommended. “Your first act in prevention should be to get a colonoscopy when your doctor tells you to; the procedure can find tumors and pre-cancerous polyps before they become deadly. The other best prevention for colorectal cancer is exercise.

“Unfortunately, most Americans don’t follow this advice,” wrote Moss, who specializes in gastrointestinal cancers, noting that only about a quarter of people get a colon cancer screening when it’s recommended. However, she said, more than half of Americans take nutritional supplements, which don’t do a thing to ward off cancer.

Why don’t more people follow the straightforward recommendation for a screening test? It’s easy to put off, heaven knows. The colonoscopy (it’s not the only screening method, but, again, it’s the gold standard) requires a bit of preparation that can easily take a day out of your schedule. The procedure itself may not take an hour, but it will still probably require a day from your calendar given the sedatives you’ll take. However, that’s nothing compared to the years that colon cancer can take off your life.

  • howa4x

    Anybody who allows an oncologist to administer poison to fight cancer is going down the path to a painful and horrible death. Change the diet, get more Omega 3, vit D and C and read about herbal treatments. Find a doctor that realizes the most successful treatment against cancer is to boost your own immune system to fight it. I’ve watched close people to me go down the Chemo road and it is a sight none of us should ever have to go through. Why take a drug that is so toxic it destroys your entire immune system? Think about it and don’t just blindly follow what the doctors say. Remember they get paid handsomely whether you live or die, so does the hospital and Big Pharma. That should be your wake up call.

  • ralphkr

    “bit of preparation that can easily take a day out of your schedule.” REALLY?!?!?!

    Both of my colonoscopies were scheduled on Monday morning and required A) no food after Friday noon. B) spending all day Saturday and Sunday in the bathroom. C) hiring a car and driver to take me to the hospital in the morning and then home in the afternoon because you are not allowed to drive after a colonoscopy. That is considerably more than “a day”. I realize that if I lived within walking distance of the hospital instead of nearly 9 miles away I would not have needed the car and driver, i.e., taxi.

    • Barbara Morgan

      When did you have yours done? I have had 2 and neither one of them had me going without food for two days or going to the bathroom until after 3 pm the day before. I took the bus to have it done and a friend picked me up afterwards. Please don’t do like a male relative of mine did, he had been having trouble going to the bathroom for almost 2 years and everyone in the family kept trying to get to get the problem checked out, he didn’t. He finally had to have emergency surgery and they thought they had gotten it all but almost a week later they found that they hadn’t gotten it all and had to operate again. A year 1/2 later they were going to get rid of the bag and connect everything back together when they found that despite chemo etc it had spread to his spleen and when they went to take it out found lots more behind it. We almost lost him three times after that surgery, he got a staph infection at the site of his incision and while in intensive care he developed double pneumonia and on three different occasions we were told if he made it through the night it would be a miracle. We were given 3 miracle and last may he was told he was cancer free. So please have a colonscopy(Not spelled right) when your Doctor recommends it or you start having trouble going to the bathroom.

      • ralphkr

        I had mine in 1981 (walked to & from the clinic and, because of more fasting tests scheduled I did not get to eat until Wednesday evening so I fasted 5 days but did lose 2 pounds) and the second one was in 2004 when I had to get a ride into town. (There is a bus stop only a half mile from my house but it takes 45 minutes and 2 buses to get to the hospital and coming home I would have to walk across an extremely busy 4 lane rural highway).

        By the way, there are two acceptable spellings ‘Colonoscopy’ and Colonoscope’. Easy way to remember is that almost anything to do with medical procedures they usually throw in an extra vowel or two.

      • ralphkr

        My first one was done in 1981 when I was still working and I walked from work to the clinic (due to other fasting tests scheduled I fasted from Friday noon until Wednesday evening but I did lose 2 pounds due to working, not eating, and all the laxatives & enemas) and the other one was in 2004 when I had to get a ride. There is a bus stop about a half mile from my house but it takes 45 minutes and two buses to travel the nearly 9 miles to the hospital plus I would have to cross a very busy rural 4 lane highway to get home.

        I am quite familiar with the trials of cancer as they discovered an inoperable tumor encasing my father’s aorta and he was told he might live 5 months if he was lucky. His cancer kept metastasizing until he finally died 13 and a half years later.

  • constancespinney

    If you would read the latest opinions of experts, the colon cancer test is way over-used. People in the 70’s for example do NOT need to have this test, and the testing itself is DANGEROUS. It’s way expensive – so adds to the bottom line for medical organizations. Think, folks. If there is NO history in your family, think twice, three times before you subject yourself to this dangerous test.

  • Dominick Vila

    As a cancer survivor (kidney and colon cancer) I cannot emphasize enough the need to have routine colonoscopies and other tests. Yes, some of those tests are unpleasant, but they save lives, particularly when cancer is detected in its early stages.

  • disqus_ivSI3ByGmh

    Last year I had my second colonoscopy. Glad I did. Both times the doctor found polyps that he excised.

  • devlooshen

    Since immorality and irresponsibility are incompatible with liberty, prosperity, and civilization we must see through the ever-shifting mirage of collectivist illusions and we must root out plunder at every turn.