July 22, 2005
There's a type of cancer that is killing thousands of Americans every year, and it's entirely preventable. Charlottesville Doctor David Balaban tells us that a simple screening can save your life.
"[A] colonoscopy is a diagnostic procedure, so what we're looking for when we screen for colon cancer, is not cancer, but actually polyps which come before cancer. So if we remove the polyps, we can actually prevent the cancer from developing. That's why it's so important to get screened early, when the polyps are small," he explained.
Anyone over 50 should get a colon cancer screening, and it's important to get screened early when the polyps are small.
It's a simple outpatient procedure. The patient fasts for a day, then, normally under sedation, the doctor runs tubes through the colon that contain a video camera. He watches a video monitor and checks for polyps.
Dr. Balaban said one reason people don't get checked is embarrassment. "Many people are embarrassment to talk about their bowel movements, their colon. And we don't want people to die of embarrassment."
If the doctor finds a polyps, it's easily removed with tiny forceps inserted through the tubes in the colon. The polyp is then sent to a lab for analysis. If it's benign, the patient won't have to have another screening for another ten years. If it's cancerous, it will be treated to make sure the cancer doesn't spread.
The test only takes about twenty minutes, and is usually covered by insurance. The state of Virginia is actually one of the first states to mandate insurance coverage for colo-rectal screenings. Incidentally, most people are sedated when they get a colonoscopy.