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Colonoscopy screenings are not nearly as discomforting as people think. To learn more about what to expect from this life-saving diagnostic procedure, click here.

Your Best Defense—a Strong Offense

Regular screenings for colon cancer are the key to prevention, detection and survival

Turning 50 brings two rites of passage: You can join AARP, and it's time to start screening for colon cancer. The second rite could save your life.

"In general, the best way to prevent colon cancer is to be rigorous about colorectal cancer screening—getting colonoscopies at regular intervals," says Michael Hersh, MD, a gastroenterologist on the medical staff of Northwest Community Hospital. "Although a high fiber diet has never proven to decrease the risk of colorectal cancer, it is helpful for overall colon health. The easiest way to increase dietary fiber is with supplements containing psyllium husk. Foods that are very high in fiber—things like bran and oatmeal, and fruits and vegetables—should be a part of your diet, too."

Commit to Screenings

When colon cancer is caught early enough, many patients may survive five years or more. Unfortunately, only four in 10 cases are caught in the early stages, making it the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States.

That's why a colonoscopy is so important, Dr. Hersh says. The screening allows the entire colon to be inspected, as well as on-the-spot removal of growths before they become cancerous. The removal of precancerous polyps reduces colon cancer risk by 80 percent.

According to Dr. Hersh, there are guidelines for colonoscopy screenings:

  • All adults should have a screening at age 50, and every 10 years after that if there is no family history or personal history of polyps.
  • Adults with a parent or sibling who had colon cancer should have an annual screening at the age of 40 or 10 years before the earliest known diagnosis of that relative's cancer, whichever is earlier. If you fall into this category, your doctor will recommend an ongoing plan once the results from your first screening are reviewed.

Easy Does It

The procedure itself is much simpler than people imagine. "The preparation for a colonoscopy involves being on a clear liquid diet the day before the test, as well as taking a laxative," Dr. Hersh says. "On the day of the procedure, an intravenous sedative is administered." Then a physician inserts a tube attached to a tiny video camera into the rectum to inspect the colon. If tissue samples are required, the same tube is used to take them. "The procedure itself takes around a half-hour," Dr. Hersh says. "You can go back to work the following day."

Michael Hersh, MD

Michael Hersh, MD

Gastroenterologist - 847.725.8464 -

  • Board-certified: Gastroenterology and Internal Medicine
  • Medical School: State University of New York at Stony Brook
  • Internship and Residency: Barnes-Jewish Hospital at Washington University in St. Louis
  • Fellowship: Barnes-Jewish Hospital at Washington University in St. Louis

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Last Updated 04/10/2009