Colorectal Cancer Awareness: Is It Time for a Colonoscopy?

March 31, 2021

What to know about colorectal cancer and how to protect yourself

Do you remember when you used to put on your favorite bell bottoms and disco dance the night away? If you do, then it’s probably time to think about a routine colonoscopy screening. According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women, excluding skin cancers. And the vast majority of these cases occur in people 50 and older.  

The good news is that the overall incidence of, and death rates associated with, colorectal cancers have been on the decline for more than a decade, thanks in large part to effective colonoscopy screenings that can detect the disease in its early stages.  

 “Colonoscopies are so important because they can improve our ability to detect colorectal cancer quickly and early, making the disease much more easily treatable” says Dr. John Adams, colorectal surgeon at St. Francis-Emory Healthcare. “Colonoscopies can also help us identify and remove colorectal polyps before they even become cancerous. The benefits are enormous.” 

What are the symptoms? 

Colorectal cancer often has no symptoms in its early stages – another reason that screenings are so important. Still, you should see your doctor if you have any of these warning signs: 

  • Bleeding from the rectum; 
  • Blood in the stool or in the toilet after a bowel movement; 
  • Change in your bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation or a change in the consistency of your stool; 
  • Persistent cramping or discomfort in the lower abdomen; 
  • An urge to have a bowel movement when the bowel is empty; 
  • Constipation or diarrhea that lasts for more than a few days;
  • Decreased appetite; 
  • Nausea or vomiting; and 
  • Unintentional weight loss. 

While these symptoms can also be indicative of other health conditions, your doctor can help you get to the root of the issue and determine the underlying cause. 

How can I help prevent it? 

Colonoscopy screenings are the number one way you can reduce your risk of colorectal cancer since the screenings can help detect the disease early or find polyps before they become cancerous. While the vast majority of new cases occur at age 50 and over, the disease does not discriminate and can happen to men and women at any age. Carolyn Curry strongly believes early detection saved her life.

“We recommend that everyone talk to their doctor about their colorectal cancer risks and discuss when a colonoscopy could be right for them,” Dr. Adams says. 

You can also be proactive in prevention in other ways. Living a healthy lifestyle that includes daily exercise, a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting your alcohol intake and eliminating smoking can reduce your risk for colorectal and many other forms of cancer. Knowing your family’s medical history is also important – a history of the disease in your immediate family puts you at a higher risk for the disease. 

Carolyn’s Story

Seventy-eight-year old, Carolyn Curry, lived a relatively healthy lifestyle, so she believed the odds of getting cancer were low. She began noticing bleeding and she knew something was off. The minute she noticed her symptoms, she spoke with her physician. From there, she received a colonoscopy, which detected the cancer was in fact colorectal cancer.

A colonoscopy is a screening test in which a thin, flexible tube with a light and a video camera on its tip is placed in the colon. The doctor can carefully examine the colon for any pre-cancerous polyps (abnormal growths) that could potentially turn into cancer. 

After her cancer diagnosis, her care team developed a treatment plan, including the lifesaving surgery performed by Dr Adams. With every appointment, Carolyn felt taken care of by her care team and her concerns were heard. Describing the great experience with Dr. Adams, she said, “I loved him! He is kind and listened to me – even the issues that had nothing to do with my diagnosis.” Much to Carolyn’s relief and to the early detection, she opted out of chemotherapy. She speaks to the importance of early detection and the importance of recognizing the symptoms stating, “It was in the first stages. The minute I felt something didn’t seem right. I did something about it instead of putting it off.”

Making the decision to seek expert care and get a screening saved her life. Two years since her diagnosis, she is still cancer-free and is continuing her regularly scheduled colonoscopies.

Contact St. Francis Center for Surgical Care at 706.324.3243 or visit MyStFrancis.com to learn more about colorectal cancer and its detection and prevention, and schedule your colonoscopy today.  


What to Expect During a Colonoscopy 
Colonoscopies are an easier procedure than many realize. Shortly before the procedure, you will likely be given pain medication and a sedative to minimize discomfort. During the approximately 30-minute procedure, any polyps found will be removed by the doctor and tissue samples will be sent for a biopsy.  

Keep in mind that you will be instructed to follow a special diet the day before your procedure and will need to have someone available to take you home afterward.