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Wear The Gown: Getting a colonoscopy could save your life

All men and women should get a colonoscopy by age 50.

SAN ANTONIO — Every year in the U.S., more than 50,000 people die from colon cancer, which doctors say is a very preventable disease.

"Colon Cancer is a huge national problem, and it is mostly preventable with screening," said Dr. Glenn Gross, a University Health System gastroenterologist and the Division Chief of Gastroenterology at UT Health San Antonio. He said all men and women need to be screened by the age of 50. Dr. Gross told us, "We are all at risk for colon cancer, and waiting for symptoms is not a good idea."

Those most at risk for colon cancer include those with little physical activity, people with a high-fat diet, those who are overweight, people who drink excessive alcohol, and those who use tobacco products. But family history plays a huge role, too. "If there is a family history of colon cancer or a lot of people in the family who have had large polyps or other special things, we will start earlier than that age of 45 to 50," Dr. Gross said.

The traditional colonoscopy is performed with a colonoscope. Dr. Gross said, "One end of the scope which goes inside the patient and has a light source a video camera that has a number of control channels in it that allow us to manipulate the scope." Water can also pass through it, and instruments to remove any polyps that are found.

During the procedure, along with the doctor, is a nurse to help with sedation and monitor safety, a technician managing the scope, and anesthesia provider. The entire team makes the procedure as comfortable as possible. "It's very common for patients to wake up in the recovery room after the procedure and ask us when we are going to do the procedure. They don't even realize that it's happened," Dr. Gross said.

Dr. Gross says getting a colonoscopy isn't just for you. "You are doing it so you can be around to take care of your family and to just have the pleasure that comes from spending time with your loved ones," he said.

For more information about family health call 210-358-3045. You can also find the rest of our Wear The Gown stories at WearTheGown.com.