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COLON – What men need to know about the need for a colonoscopy as they approach 50 years of age and whether women need to pay attention too.

What men need to know about a colonoscopy and whether women need to think about it too

By STEVE DAWSON

Over a decade ago, I had several instances of discomfort on the ride home from an otherwise enjoyable experience eating out. Moments after getting into a cab, there would be a sudden and quite urgent need to find a bathroom – not a distinct possibility in the back of a taxi.

On one occasion, the 25-minute journey from the city to my home in the east, certainly registered as the longest and most uncomfortable of my life. By the time we had been dropped off in the car park, my wife had called ahead so that those at home could make sure the front door was unlocked allowing me to race through and into the bathroom, before something dreadful happened. Fortunately I reached the finish line without disaster. That though was the worst in a series of similar events that made me realise something was wrong and I visited a doctor to get it all checked out.

The upshot was a colonoscopy, which if you’re unsure is a medical exam used to detect changes or abnormalities in the large intestine (colon) and rectum. During the process, a long, flexible tube (colonoscope) is inserted into the rectum and a tiny video camera at the tip of the tube allows the doctor to view the inside of the entire colon.

You are sedated for the procedure but my memory of this is that I was awake for at least part of it. I certainly recall being lubricated via a shot of cold gel in the appropriate location which, although it came without warning, certainly wasn’t painful. I think shortly thereafter I must have no longer have been awake because I can’t remember anything else.

The results were negative for anything of great concern and the prognosis was that I likely had developed an over reliance on anti-biotics which affected the gut and messed up my digestive process. 

Several years later, as a man of over 50-years old, I was advised to have another colonoscopy as a matter of prudence. Colonoscopies play an important role in colorectal cancer prevention because grape-like growths, called polyps, can be detected and removed during the same exam in which they are discovered. 

Polyps in the colon or rectum are common in adults and usually harmless. But some polyps—known as adenomas— may eventually turn into cancer. It’s generally advised that if the test doesn’t find adenomas or cancer and you don’t have risk factors for the disease, your chance of developing it is low for the next ten years. That’s because the test misses very few adenomas, and colorectal cancer grows slowly. Even if one or two small, low-risk adenomas are found and removed, you’re unlikely to develop cancer for at least five years, and repeating the test again provides little benefit. So most people need the exam just once a decade, and only a few with larger, more serious polyps may need it more often than every five years.

In my case they found a harmless-looking polyp and nipped it in the bud, they also smoothed out a grooved area that might have caught and trapped debris over time with the risk of it leading to potential problems. All of this happened without me being conscious and was therefore entirely pain free. I was advised to complete the whole procedure again in five years and having had two very comfortable experiences already, am very happy to do so.

The only real discomfort comes in the hours before the procedure. To ready your digestive system for the next day, you have to consume a fair quantity of pills and more than you’d naturally want of an unappetising liquid to clear your bowels. You’ll need to be at home and near the bathroom for these few hours, as the effect is quite potent.

Although colonoscopies have become the main flag bearer for well-being among men of a certain age, women should be just as prudent as their male counterparts. A recent report by the Singapore Cancer Registry found colorectal cancer to be one of the three leading cancers diagnosed in Singapore, regardless of gender and ethnicity. In fact, colorectal cancer is responsible for approximately 1-in-6 of all cancer diagnoses in Singaporean men and 1-in-7 in Singaporean women, with Chinese men and women being most at risk.

Cancer treatment is most effective in the early stages of colorectal cancer. The survival rates for men and women are around 84 per cent and 86 per cent respectively, if the cancer is detected at stage one. However, survival rates drop steeply to just 10 per cent for men and 11 percent for women if the cancer reaches stage four. So, early detection is critical in ensuring the best chances of survival and that’s why colonoscopies once over the age of 50 are so encouraged.

Once you hit the half century mark, put yourself in a position to celebrate the next half century by making an appointment to see your doctor to discuss this painless, potentially life-saving process and if your parents haven’t made the move, see if you can educate them on the benefits too. 

Singapore-based Steve Dawson is a seasoned sports journalist and broadcaster who has covered thousands of sporting events at arenas, in studios and hunkered down in commentary booths.
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