SUNDAY, Feb. 19 (HealthDay News) -- Even though a colonoscopy is an important colorectal cancer screening procedure that can save lives, many people have unfounded worries about the test and avoid it, an expert says.
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"A colonoscopy is an amazing tool that allows us to see how healthy our insides are," Dr. Christine Hachem, an assistant professor of internal medicine and a gastroenterologist at Saint Louis University, said in a university news release. "While you may feel anxious about the procedure, a discussion with your doctor can ease many of your concerns."
She outlined a number of reasons for having a colonoscopy, including the fact that the simple 20-minute test could save your life. A colonoscopy can help identify people at risk of developing colorectal cancer. Waiting until signs or symptoms develop can prove fatal.
During the procedure, your doctor may discover and remove precancerous polyps. Doing so can prevent cancer from developing. If cancer is found, treatment can begin immediately, which improves your chances of beating it.
Your worries about having a colonoscopy may be baseless, Hachem suggested.
"Talk to your doctor about your concerns because there are a lot of ways of preparing for and doing the same procedure and we can tailor the procedure to each patient's needs," she said.
You likely won't remember the procedure because patients usually receive sedatives that make them feel relaxed and sleepy.
"Most people wake up afterwards asking when the procedure will start," Hachem said.
As for other benefits, a colonoscopy can provide other family members with information about their own risk of colorectal cancer.
In general, colonoscopies are recommended beginning at age 50. But people considered at high risk, such as blacks, should start screening colonoscopies at age 45, the release said.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute estimates that nearly 50,000 U.S. adults died last year from cancer of the colon and rectum.
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SOURCE: Saint Louis University, news release, Jan. 31, 2012