That was the middle of my day. As a result of my age and other risk factors, I now get one every few years, and because I’m a blogger, I can write about it; and I feel I have to, because I might save your life. It only takes a couple hours, it’s not terribly unpleasant, and it’s an insanely cost-effective way to not be one of the people killed by colon cancer; that’s 50,000 or so in the US every year. So if you’re middle aged, ask your damn doctor already. You can read a bit about what it’s like, with more cheerleading of course, here and here. This morning, when they asked me if there’d been any changes since last time I said “No”, but I was thinking that yeah, there was; both those pieces have comments from Derek Miller, but this one won’t.



Contributions

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From: DougK (Sep 27 2012, at 20:53)

I was diagnosed (via colonoscopy) with late stage colon cancer at age 44, and 14 years ago I was post-surgery, in chemotherapy, and relieved to know that they wouldn't have to cut out part of my liver, too.

If I'd waited for the "recommended age" of my colonoscopy, I'd be dead. The only reason the disease was found was that a technician running a cholesterol test noticed I was anemic, thought to mention it to a doctor, who decided to find out why.

Tim is right. Don't wait for your doctor to suggest a colonoscopy; ask about it. A colonoscopy sounds gross, but it's better than finding out what surgery and chemotherapy are like, or contemplating death before your kids grow up.

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From: John Cowan (Sep 27 2012, at 21:15)

I'm going to have one next week, not as a screening measure but because I'm having bariatic surgery soon -- a gastric bypass, to be exact. I'll report back.

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From: Dirk Haun (Sep 27 2012, at 23:44)

More cheerleading from a well-known presenter here: http://garr.posterous.com/if-you-are-dreading-getting-a-colonoscopy-don

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From: Marc (Sep 28 2012, at 01:06)

Knowing the details of ones family history is, of course, quite critical. When I was in my thirties, I was aware that several close relatives (all female to that point) had suffered from "cancer" in their 40s and 50s, unfortunately, I was never told the specifics (my sister was, as the problem was originally believed to be matrilineal). At 41 I started having increasingly severe digestive problems. With no stated family history of colon cancer, a colonoscopy was simply not called for at my age. So, I was treated for stomach acid and possible ulcers. After I lost 30 lbs in six months, my doctor referred me to a gastroenterologist, who immediately scheduled a colonoscopy. I had a colon tumor (Stage III in my case), as did, I found out shortly thereafter, my mother, her mother, and very likely, her grandmother. Luckily, my sister now had adequate warning, her second colonoscopy caught a Stage II tumor at age 39.

That was 16 years ago. There is now a much better understanding of familial cancers. In our case, the genetic defect has since been identified, and an inexpensive genetic test will determine whether my daughter (and her first cousins) will be at risk for the same problem.

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From: Ric (Sep 28 2012, at 04:51)

Bowel cancer took my Mum, so my 50th birthday present to myself was a colonoscopy. While I wouldn't describe the experience as pleasant, it is a lot easier to handle than developing what is one of the most easily detected and prevented cancers. No excuse for not doing it, especially if there's a family history. I've done two so far, and will happily have colonoscopies for decades.

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From: Juan (Sep 28 2012, at 07:29)

Hear hear on the colonoscopy. I was fortunate that at age 44 my doctors recommended I have it done early because of some hemorrhoids I'd been dealing with. They found a cancerous polyp and at first the diagnosis was grim: stage 2 or 3 cancer. My wife was 7 months pregnant at the time.

The good news is that after some hasty arrangements and a partial colonectomy (has about a foot of my colon removed), the cancer turned out to be barely stage 1. It's been a year and I'm cancer free.

Had it not been for the colonoscopy, I wouldn't have made it to 50.

Moral of the story: do it.

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From: Dave Pawson (Sep 29 2012, at 02:55)

No more for me Tim. After 4 (I agree about the inflation being the worst bit) I agreed with the docs and gave up, they removed my colon so that's one less risk for me. I now regularly meet with other 'ostomists', many recovered from cancer of the colon. there can be life after cancer, though spotting it early is the key to getting shut.

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From: Marc (Sep 29 2012, at 15:59)

Hmm, an awful lot of outliers posting in this thread. Just to be clear, in the absence of family history or specific symptoms, there is really no need for a colonoscopy prior to age 50.

I have had 10 to 12 colonoscopies over the past 15 years, no ill effects from any of them, aside from some minor bleeding when there has been need for a biopsy. I don't enjoy the 24 hours of prep, but I've found that if you ask the people doing the procedure nicely, they can make it pretty certain that you won't wake up in the middle, so I've never experienced any real pain or discomfort.

One thing I have noted is that quite a few gastroenterologists are still ignorant of the various forms of inherited intestinal cancers. Or, they may be aware, and assume that they are only an issue for specific ethnic backgrounds. This led to a problem a few years ago, when I had symptoms (severe anemia) of what turned out to be my second tumor. My gastroenterologist assumed that since nothing showed up in stool tests or a subsequent colonoscopy, it wasn't his problem. In fact, there was a (rather rare) tumor in my small intestine, which was only discovered after he reluctantly agreed to refer me for a capsule endoscopy (pill camera). The surgery in this case was performed by a local teaching hospital which happened to have a research group looking at familial intestinal cancers, which led to genetic testing, identification of the specific syndrome, and more comprehensive monitoring.

So, my message to all of you outliers (or those with family history), there has been a lot of work in this area over the past decade or so, make sure your gastroenterologists and oncologists are up to date with the latest research. You may need more than just colonoscopies to save your life...

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From: Danny (Sep 30 2012, at 07:55)

Colonoscopies are not without risk. A certain number of people each year contract hepatitis after the procedure. The machines come with their own cleaning machines that run for 20 minutes, but it's acknowledged that this is not 100 percent perfect. Most clinics will do blood tests at the time of the appointment and then schedule the positives for the end of the day, doing a 1-hour triple cleaning run overnight. This is about the best they can do.

So yes, get one if your doctor recommends it, but don't get them more often than necessary.

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From: Tony Fisk (Oct 04 2012, at 21:21)

At 100 they say the Queen sends you a telegram. At 90, it's the PM. I discovered, at 50, that the Australian Surgeon-General sent me a little parcel with a stool sampling kit in it.

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