Every tough guy needs an occasional reminder from loved ones to pay his doctor a visit – whether he’s sick or feeling just fine.
When it comes to a colonoscopy, maybe an extra push is just what he needs given that an estimated 26,100 men will die from colorectal cancer this year.
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths and the third most common cancer nationwide. And while colon cancer affects men and women equally, men are less likely to get screened.
With proper screening, colorectal cancer can be prevented. It starts out as a polyp, or a growth in the tissue that lines the inner surface of the colon or rectum. Polyps can be discovered by a colonoscopy, and if found and removed, colorectal cancer can be prevented.
So why are more people not taking advantage of these potentially life-saving screenings? And more specifically, why are men more reluctant to get a colonoscopy?
Dr. Omer Khalid, a gastroenterologist with Digestive Health Specialists in Thomasville, North Carolina, said women are more eager to seek medical advice.
“Men are historically stubborn,” Khalid said. “They are more apathetic and wait for longer periods of time before they realize they haven’t been screened.”
Khalid also noted the prevalence of screenings in men versus women may have something to do with women being more willing to get screened.
“Mammograms and yearly pap smears may normalize screenings for women in general,” Khalid said. “Men don’t start their prostate exams until age 45 so they’re still getting used to the idea of screenings when it’s time for their colonoscopy, usually around age 50.”
A healthy discussion to explain the risks and benefits of the procedure can put patients at ease. A colonoscopy allows one’s doctor to examine the entire length of the large intestine and help identify problems with the colon, such as early signs of cancer, inflamed tissue, ulcers and bleeding.
Khalid said preparation for a colonoscopy is the biggest hurdle. But compared in the grander scheme of things, it’s a “minor inconvenience,” he said.
Khalid noted preparation for colonoscopies has improved in the past several years, but it’s still hard for people to keep themselves on a clear liquid diet before the procedure.
But the benefits far outweigh the risks.
Black men have perhaps even more reason to heed to Khalid’s advice and get screened as they have the greatest risk. According to the American Cancer Society, African-American men have the highest incidence rates and highest mortality rates for colon cancer across the country – higher than both white men and women and Hispanic men and women.
“Colon cancer is preventable in today’s day and age,” Khalid said. “With today’s technology and accessibility, there is no reason someone shouldn’t get screened.”
And not having any current issues is not an excuse. Khalid said he’s seen patients recently who had early colon cancer with no symptoms.
“I can’t stress enough how important colonoscopies are,” Khalid said. “It’s so important to have a discussion with your primary care doctor who can refer you for a screening.”
Are you or your loved one at risk for colon cancer? The National Cancer Institute offers an online colorectal cancer risk assessment tool designed for people over age 50.