The recent death of Chadwick Boseman once again shines a spotlight on a preventable cause of death. For those who don’t know, Chadwick Boseman was the actor who played the Black Panther. He was an inspiration to untold numbers of African Americans particularly young children (and some older ones) who didn’t have many superheroes that looked like them. He died on August 28th of stage 4 colon cancer at the age of 43. I am not going to try to make a case that his death was preventable, but many others are.
Routine screening for colon cancer is advised to begin at age 50 years old or at 40 if it runs in the family or any other risk factors are present. It takes about 10 years for a colon polyp, a little lump of tissue in the colon, to grow into a cancer. A colonoscopy with removal and analysis of that polyp can save a life. It is as simple as that.
Many people do not want to get a colonoscopy because it is a gross thing to think or talk about. Many fear the prep. Dave Barry once joked that the colonoscopy prep should come with a seatbelt for the toilet seat. One form of the prep comes with a warning that says it “may cause a loose stool”. That is ridiculous. It WILL cause a LOT of loose stool. The idea is to cause a whole bunch of liquid stools until it looks like water. This is so that the doctor can see those little lumps and remove them for study. Having been through the prep myself, I can’t say that I’d do it recreationally, but it isn’t horrible. You just don’t want to be more than 15 feet from a toilet for the day.
The procedure itself is no big deal. You watch the anesthesiologist inject some white stuff into your IV and a few seconds later you wake up with the colonoscopy finished and none the worse for wear. Well, OK, you may be a little gassy, too.
Colon, breast, and testicular are three common forms of cancer that are much more easily treated when found early. For that to happen, people need to check themselves and talk to their doctors. I understand that many people don’t want to get checked for cancer. It feels like a no win proposition. Best case, everything is normal and nothing happens. In the worst case, they find something and the news is bad. We have to remember that it is so much better to find the bad stuff earlier than later. Another way to look at it is that a simple procedure or exam can add years or even decades to your life. It is OK to be a little scared of these things. That’s what doctors are there for. We can answer questions and address concerns to help people feel more comfortable about dealing with the sometimes icky things we need to do to take care of ourselves.