3 Colon Health Issues Doctors Worry About
Let’s talk about bums.
The main job of your colon is to dehydrate liquid waste produced during digestion in order to pass the waste from your body. A normal colon has serval muscle layers that allow the colon to move the waste in the right direction. There are 3 distinct areas of the colon: the ascending colon, the transverse colon and the descending colon.
Doctors can examine the entire colon using a colonoscope. The colonoscope is a flexible tube tipped by a lighted camera. The procedure is called a colonoscopy and is the best way for doctors to find, identify and even remove colon health risks, specifically cancer-causing polyps. Current recommendations are that you get a colonoscopy every 5-7 years starting around age 50.
Record scratch. You want to put what up where?? Ouch!
First, let’s clear one thing up – the inside of your colon does not have any pain receptors. The only discomfort a person ever feels during a colonoscopy is when the colon is over inflated, which feels the same as being constipated.
“I know, the thought of ‘shoving’ something up there is stressful,” explains Activ Doctors US Medical Director Dr. Howard Zahalsky. “This causes a lot of people to delay getting their colonoscopies, even knowing that colon cancer is deadly and a colonoscopy can save your life. That is why they have created what’s called a virtual colonoscopy.”
Sounds techy, right? I’m in.
But wait one minute…
“I’m not a big fan of virtual colonoscopies for two reasons,” admits Dr. Zahalsky. “First, you still have to do the prep, which involves heavy laxatives and is just plain unpleasant. Second, if the virtual colonoscopy finds a polyp – and there’s a 40% chance that it will – then you have to do the regular colonoscopy anyway. So that’s two procedures, and two preps, where it could have been resolved in one procedure.”
Colon cancer is responsible for the largest number of preventable cancers, with nearly 100,000 diagnoses every year. It is the 2nd leading cause of cancer death in men (after lung cancer), and the 3rd leading cause of cancer death in women (after breast and lung cancer).
All colon cancers start as polyps. Polyps are little flaps of skin that grow inside your colon. It takes 10 years for a polyp to develop into colon cancer, which is why getting a colonoscopy every 5-7 years is so important in preventing colon cancer.
Once a polyp has ballooned into cancer, it can no longer be removed with a colonoscope, and requires surgical removal.
After colon cancer, diverticulosis is the most common problem people have with their colon. Over time, pressure in the descending colon causes weak spots to develop in the walls of your colon, forming little pouches called diverticula. “These pouches are not dangerous, per se,” explains Dr. Zahalksy, “but they are prolific bleeders, and can sometimes get infected.”
Infection is most often caused by food particles, particularly small nuts and berries (like the seeds on the outside of strawberries). People with diverticulosis are encouraged to avoid these foods.
Familial polyposis is a genetic condition where people start to get polyps at a very young age, typically in their teens. By the time they are in their 20s and 30s, they have literally hundreds or thousands of polyps throughout their colon. These polyps are often more aggressive than typical polyps, and often require more aggressive treatment, up to and including the complete removal of the colon to prevent cancer.
If a person has a family history of colon cancer at a young age, your doctors will most likely recommend that you begin colonoscopies much earlier.
How Can Activ Doctors Online Work for You?
Personal Health Record
When was your last colonoscopy? Don’t remember? You’re not alone.
Not keeping track of your colonoscopy records can result in performing a colonoscopy too late (allowing polyps to develop into cancer) or too early (and, really, who wants that?!). If you have control of your records and take them wherever you go, you will always have the information any future doctor needs to provide you with the best, most appropriate care.
Second Medical Opinions
When you receive a serious diagnosis, such as colon cancer or familial polyposis, a second opinion may provide new options, the opportunity for a clinical trial or simply a chance to better understand your diagnosis.
Activ Doctors Online members can request second (and even third!) opinions from experts across the nation and around the world to find the best options for care.
If your doctor participates, you can speak directly to your doctor through our video conferencing platform, so you may not need to even go to the office to get your colonoscopy results.