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Healthwise: Colon Cancer Awareness Month

March 2, 2011

A colonoscopy is a procedure that could save your life. Now, doctors at Martha Jefferson Hospital are spending the month of March encouraging people to pay attention to their colon health and to get a colon screening.

"We really want to enforce the need for colonoscopy cancer screenings," explained Dr. Jenny Smith, of Martha Jefferson Hospital.

Smith works at Charlottesville Gastroenterology Associates. She has performed several colonoscopies and understands how effective they can be.

"Screening is the one thing that you can do to prevent colon cancer. When you wait too long then your disease is more likely to be advanced and that decreases your rate of cure," said Smith.

Smith says it is important to understand your risk factors. Your medical history determines when you will need to be wheeled into an exam room.

"The age is the same for both men and women, for a person who has no family history of colon polyps or family history of colon cancer. The age at which you start screening is 50," explained Smith.

New guidelines suggest African Americans are more likely to get colon cancer. Doctors suggest those individuals start screening at age 45. Those who have a history of colon cancer should start screening at age 40.

"There are a lot of cancers that we can't prevent. They are not screening protocols for pancreatic cancer, not screening protocols for other types of lung cancer," said Smith.

Colon cancer is preventable, and when diagnosed early it can be cured. Smith says the simple 20 minutes in an exam room for a colonoscopy is enough to keep you healthy for the rest of your life.

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