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UPMC Physician: Colonoscopies Save Lives

Every March, the health community focuses on colorectal cancer awareness. Colon cancer is the fourth most common cancer that affects Pennsylvanians — in 2020, 5,688 cases were reported and 2,342 of these cases ended in death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

When caught early, colon cancer is easier to treat and has a greater chance of survival — so how do we catch it? Keeping up with your health by visiting a primary care doctor regularly, knowing your family’s health history, and following colorectal screening recommendations are just a few ways.
Risk Factors of Colorectal Cancer

Knowing your risk of developing this disease helps determine how soon you may need to screen for colorectal cancer. Below are a few factors to consider and to discuss with your doctor.
• Age – By the time you reach 45 years of age, the chances of developing colorectal cancer rise substantially. This is when doctors recommend that anyone should begin screenings for the disease, regardless of the other risk factors below.
• Family History – If there is a history of your family having colorectal cancer, your chances are increased again, especially if it affects an immediate family member. This is important information for your primary care doctor to know as they may recommend colorectal screenings earlier than 45 years of age. Other hereditary conditions like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease may increase the risk of developing colorectal cancer.
• Diet – To help decrease your chance of developing colorectal cancer, it is important to avoid eating processed foods and red meats. It is also recommended that you should consume whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and foods high in fiber.
• Lifestyle – Alcohol and smoking contribute to the development of several cancers, including colorectal. Alcohol lowers folic acid levels in your body, which is linked to colorectal cancer. Being overweight and living a sedentary life also increases the risk of developing cancer.
Colonoscopies: What to Expect

Colonoscopies are a common and effective way of screening for colorectal cancer. They involve an endoscopic examination of the rectum, large bowel, and portion of the small bowel. A camera is mounted on a flexible tube and inserted in the anus to inspect these parts of your body. While this sounds uncomfortable, don’t worry — you will be sedated with general anesthesia and put to sleep throughout the entire procedure. The camera allows doctors to see if any polyps, or small bunches of cells that may be precancerous, have formed. If so, they can remove these cells, reducing the development of colorectal cancer in the future. Colonoscopies only take about 20 to 30 minutes and rarely cause any complications.

Colonoscopies require a bit of preparation, which is ultimately why they make people a little uneasy. The process begins the day before your exam and is designed to empty your colon completely so that doctors have a better view of what’s going on. Many patients say this is the most challenging part of the entire test because it requires a day-long liquid diet and taking laxatives that cause diarrhea. As a result, planning to be close to a toilet during this stage is essential. The good news? The prep is worth the result, and recent improvements have made prep easier with newer, better-tasting medications in smaller volumes that are spaced out.
Schedule Your Colonoscopy Today

While there are other colon cancer tests, they do not have the preventive benefits of a colonoscopy. Whether you are experiencing symptoms, or this is your year to have a colonoscopy — don’t delay. Talk with your doctor to find out when screening is appropriate for you — it could save your life.

by Emily Suvock, D.O.
Gastroenterology, UPMC

Emily Suvock, D.O., is a gastroenterologist who sees patients at UPMC Williamsport’s Digestive Disease Center, 700 High St., Williamsport. To learn more about UPMC Gastroenterology services, go to