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La Prensa: Four Honest Facts About Colon Cancer Screening

by Maria A. Palafox, MD

Colorectal cancer is a term used for cancer that starts in the colon or rectum; both are parts of the digestive system. The stomach is the first part, followed by the small intestine, then the colon, also known as the large intestine. The stomach receives the food and begins digestion; the small intestine absorbs nutrition from food for energy, then the colon absorbs water and creates the solid waste.

Colorectal cancer is the second most common cancer in both Hispanic males and females. According to Fred Hatch Research, Hispanics are more likely to have more advanced cancer when diagnosed. Things that increase our risk of colon cancer are family history of colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, diabetes, smoking, alcohol use, and eating red and processed meats.

Sounds like many of us, doesn’t it? Things that make it less likely that we get colon cancer are: physical activity, milk or calcium consumption, use of anti-inflammatory drugs and removal of polyps from the colon before they turn into cancer. The high rate of diabetes in our pueblo and lack of screening with colonoscopy both make us more likely to be diagnosed with larger cancers.

Why do Hispanics avoid colonoscopy?

• No or not enough insurance

• Don’t want to or cannot take time off of work

• Embarrassed about the screening

• Pure Pride

• Fear of a cancer diagnosis

The American Cancer Society states, “A large proportion of cancers of the colorectal could be prevented by avoiding risk factors such as obesity, physical inactivity, consumption of red and processed meats, and by detection and removal of precancerous lesions through screening.” This means getting a colonoscopy, where polyps can be found and removed all at the same time, without surgery.

Most colon cancers start off as small polyps; the problem is that we as doctors cannot tell which ones might someday turn into colon cancer, so we remove all of them. We then recommend repeat colonoscopy in two to 10 years depending on what we find.

So the four honest facts about colonoscopy are as follows:

1. We as Hispanics are at higher risk for more advanced, larger colorectal cancer.

2. It’s not that bad. You drink something the day before to clean you out— several trips to the bathroom over a few hours. Big deal. You go to sleep for the colonoscopy and go home about two hours later free of polyps.

3. Colonoscopy is pain-free and you go back to normal life the next day.

4. Colonoscopy can save your life.

Do you have a family history of colon cancer? Are you over the age of 50? Talk to your doctor about scheduling you for a colonoscopy.

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