Living Well 101: Florida A&M University

TALLAHASSEE — Some of us have heard the dramatized stories people have told about going to the doctor for a colonoscopy at age 50.

The whining and complaining is almost humorous as they share tales of making it through such a close encounter.


In reality, however, a moment of discomfort is not that funny if it means saving a life. Colorectal or colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths among men and women in the United States.

According to the American Cancer Society, more than half of the 102,480 new cases of colon cancer in 2013 will result in death before the end of the year. Since this disease is not gender specific, it is important that women also start telling their own stories about colon cancer screenings.


Colon cancer develops when abnormal tissue called a polyp forms a malignant tumor. The process can take between 10 and 15 years, which makes screening for the presence of polyps very important in the early detection of colon cancer for several reasons.




In the early stages of colon cancer most people don’t have symptoms, and screenings can detect it early.


Secondly, colon cancer screenings can detect the presence of abnormal cell growth and polyps before they develop into cancer. 


While most people should receive their first screening beginning at age 50, earlier screenings should occur for persons with the following risk factors:


• Family history of colon polyps or colon cancer


• Diagnosis of Chron’s Disease


• Genetic syndrome (such as Familial Adenomatous Polyposis or FAP)


There are several different types of screening methods used to detect colon cancer.


These tests can be divided into two broad categories: tests that find cancer and tests that find both polyps and cancer. The latter category is the most preferred, which allows the doctor to look inside the colon by using a small camera.




This test uses a bendable tube that has a small video camera attached to the end. The tube is inserted through the rectum and the pictures from the camera are sent to a viewing screen so that the doctor can see the inside of the colon.


If the physician finds any polyps or abnormal tissue, they can remove them during the procedure and send them for testing to find out if they are cancerous.


The disadvantage of this test is that the tube is only two feet in length, which allows the doctor to only look at about half of the colon.


If your doctor does order this test, you will be asked to follow a special diet the day before having the procedure.


You may also need to take some medications to help clean the inside of the colon before the exam to help the doctor view the lining of the colon during the procedure.


Also, tell your doctor about any medications you are currently using. Depending on the medication, you may have to stop use temporarily before the doctor can perform this test.




This test also uses a small bendable tube, but a colonoscopy has the advantage of allowing the doctor to look at the entire colon for the presence of polyps and cancer.


Before a colonoscopy is performed the colon must be cleaned.


This usually requires that you take a laxative the day before the test and possibly use an enema the morning of your appointment.


Additionally, you will be sedated during the test, so you will need to arrange for someone to drive you home after the procedure.


The death rate from colon cancer during the past 20 years has declined. One major reason is the number of people receiving colon cancer screenings has increased.


So men and women, let’s continue to increase the number of success stories told. Celebrate National Colon Cancer Awareness Month by getting screened.

Pictured above is Angela Singh, a Pharm. D and associate professor at the Florida A&M University College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Her practice focus is in the area of oncology and geriatric medicine. Follow @ FAMU_LivingWell. Visit