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With March being National Colorectal Awareness Month, local experts are encouraging adults to stop putting off a potentially life-saving screening—a colonoscopy.

During a colonoscopy, a long, lighted scope is maneuvered through the colon. The scope allows physicians to see polyps, as well as remove them.

"This makes colonoscopy an important procedure that can both diagnose and treat," said Scottsdale Healthcare board-certified gastroenterologist Stuart Triester, MD. "While most polyps do not become cancerous, physicians can't tell which will or will not lead to disease, so all are removed."

Patients undergoing a colonoscopy need to cleanse their bowls beforehand so the physician can see and remove any polyps. Typically, patients are on a liquid diet the day prior and take a laxative in the evening and early the following morning, Dr. Triester said.

"There's very little discomfort during the procedure. Patients generally receive ‘twilight' anesthesia and feel or remember almost nothing," he added.

A screening colonoscopy is recommended on average every five to 10 years starting at age 50, or at age 40 if you have a family history of colorectal cancer or precancerous polyps.

Dr. Triester noted that colorectal cancer is the nation's third most commonly diagnosed cancer in men and the second most in women, excluding skin cancers.

According to the American Cancer Society, the disease has a five-year survival rate of about 90 percent if it is found and treated early. However, the society notes that "because many people are not getting tested, only about 4 out of 10 are diagnosed at this early stage when treatment is most likely to be successful."

A traditional colonoscopy is recommended by many experts over other screening tests for colorectal cancer, such as a virtual colonoscopy. With a virtual colonoscopy, imaging equipment is used to look inside a patient's colon rather than maneuvering a scope through the colon.

"While a virtual colonoscopy understandably may seem like a better option, it has important drawbacks," Dr. Triester said. "If any polyps are seen, the patient must still undergo a traditional colonoscopy to remove those polyps. With polyps found in approximately 30 percent of people over age 50, there's a pretty good chance you're still going to need a traditional colonoscopy."

Virtual colonoscopy patients also needs to cleanse their bowels in advance, just like those having a traditional colonoscopy.

Coinciding with National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, Scottsdale Healthcare is offering educational information, a list of gastroenterologists and more as part of a "50 and fearless" campaign. For more details or to schedule a colonoscopy consultation, call 480-323-3801 or visit 50 and Fearless.

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