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Get Ahead of Colon Cancer; Schedule Your First Colonoscopy

Many things are “rites of passage,” e.g., a first day of school, a first drive behind the wheel of a car, a first kiss, and a first…colonoscopy?

Most recommendations for cancer screenings include a specific age to have your first colonoscopy.  In Alaska, however, healthcare providers and the communities they serve are working even harder to get ahead of colon cancer before it becomes a problem.  Alaska Native people have some of the highest rates of cancer in the world, according to the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.  Because of this horrific statistic, it is recommended that Alaska Natives start colonoscopy screenings at age 40, ten years younger than many other groups.

Why get screened early?  It can give both patients and their families peace of mind to know there are no cancerous cells in the colon.  If there is cancer, a colonoscopy at around age 40 gives more precious time to treat and remove the cancer cells found before they spread.

The Colonoscopy Procedure 

A colonoscopy is performed by a doctor experienced in the procedure and lasts approximately 30-60 minutes. Medications will be given into your vein to make you feel relaxed and drowsy. You will be asked to lie on your left side on the examining table. During a colonoscopy, the doctor uses a colonoscope, a long, flexible, tubular instrument about 1/2-inch in diameter that transmits an image of the lining of the colon, so the doctor can examine it for any abnormalities. The colonoscope is inserted through the rectum and advanced to the other end of the large intestine.

The scope bends, so the doctor can move it around the curves of your colon. You may be asked to change position occasionally to help the doctor move the scope. The scope also blows air into your colon, which expands the colon and helps the doctor see more clearly.

You may feel mild cramping during the procedure. You can reduce the cramping by taking several slow, deep breaths. When the doctor has finished, the colonoscope is slowly withdrawn while the lining of your bowel is carefully examined.

Removing Detected Polyps

During the colonoscopy, if the doctor sees something that may be abnormal, such as growths or polyps, small amounts of tissue can be removed for analysis (called a biopsy). In many cases, colonoscopy allows accurate diagnosis and treatment without the need for a major operation.

So, you may have heard friends or family members talking about the colonoscopy they got when they turned 50-years-old.  You can congratulate those people for taking care of themselves.  If you are Alaska Native or American Indian, though, your “rite of passage” for the colon screening should be at age 40.

Talk to your SEARHC provider about your screening schedule. For more information, visit search.org.

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The SEARHC Crisis Help Line, 1.877.294.0074, is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to residents of Southeast Alaska.