When was the last time you saw your dentist or even primary care physician? Millions of patients nationwide have put off key screenings and preventative care appointments over the past year due to COVID-19. Your health is important and taking time to check-in with your body can assist in the early detection of a variety of diseases and conditions, including colon cancer.

Colon cancer screenings have significantly decreased since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. At UofL Health – UofL Hospital, we are seeing a decrease in colon cancer screenings because of COVID-19. In fact, colonoscopies, a form of colon cancer screenings, are down by 80% since the beginning of the pandemic.

In the early 2000s, Kentucky was at the bottom of the national average for colon cancer screenings, being 48th or 50th depending on the year. With the help of the Kentucky Colon Cancer Screening Program (KCCSP), our area has become part of the top middle group of screenings. KCCSP offers free colon cancer screenings to eligible low-income patients who are uninsured. This program has funded health department sites across Kentucky who promote the awareness of the program and recruit residents who would be eligible to benefit from the KCCSP.

The Ohio Valley area has seen younger colon cancer patients, the majority of which who have inherited genes that can increase the likelihood of developing colon cancer. You can learn more about Early Age Onset (EAO) colorectal cancer by clicking here.

The decline and lack of screenings make early detection more difficult. This decrease will result in an increase of cancer deaths in the coming years as health screenings are continuing to be delayed. Colon cancer is the second largest cancer killer, and the delays in screening creates a potential risk of death for something that can otherwise be treatable.

What can you expect during a colonoscopy?

One way to screen for colon cancer is by getting your colonoscopy. During a colonoscopy, your doctor will check for abnormalities in the large intestine and rectum such as polyps. Before your in-office appointment, the provider will usually prescribe a laxative that will help clean out your bowels the 24-72 hours before the colonoscopy. Your doctor may want to adjust your medications that could affect your colonoscopy. Be sure to communicate all medications including over-the-counter drugs. On the day of the procedure after you have changed into a hospital gown, a sedative will be given through either an IV or pill. You will then be asked to lie on your side and may need to bring your knees in towards your chest. Be sure to have a ride home after the procedure.

During the procedure, the doctor will use a scope to be inserted into the rectum. The scope has a camera and light on the end which provides the imaging for the doctor to examine. Air or carbon dioxide will be used to inflate the colon. This will give a better view to see any possible abnormal tissue. If there is anything, your doctor may remove or tissue sample for a biopsy. You will be awake so your doctor can communicate everything as it happens. Colonoscopies do not take long. The procedure is about 15 minutes and you will recover after sedation after about an hour. After the procedure, you may have some cramping or gas expelling as you walk or feel like you need to have a bowel movement because of the air that was introduced into your colon.

Other screening options

Routine screenings and tests increase the rate of early detection and more manageable treatment. Screening options have become more accessible with some options allowing at-home non-coloscopy-based testing. Screenings are usually covered by insurance while some are now free through certain programs.

Is it time for your colonoscopy? Learn more about colon cancer screenings and the varying types that may be best for you by clicking here. To find a location to be screened for colon and rectal cancer, visit UofLBrownCancerCenter.org/screenings. If you have symptoms, talk with your primary care provider as soon as possible. To make an appointment with primary care at UofL Health, call 502-588-4343.

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Article by:

Russell Farmer, M.D.

Dr. Russell Farmer is a colon and rectal surgeon with UofL Physicians. He is also part of the colorectal cancer multidisciplinary team at UofL Health -- Brown Cancer Center. His areas of interest include colon and rectal cancer, fecal incontinence, inflammatory bowel disease and laparoscopic and robotic surgery. Dr. Farmer received his medical degree from the University of Texas. He completed his residency in general surgery and fellowship in colon and rectal surgery, both at the University of Louisville.

All posts by Russell Farmer, M.D.
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