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Colonoscopy can be a lifesaver, so just do it

If you have ever tried to get a man to go to the doctor even when he is miserably sick, you don't need me to tell you how tough it is to get guys to go for preventive care.

And when they turn 50 and need to get that first colonoscopy, all I can say is, good luck.

Now, on top of everything else Freddie Solomon has done for the Tampa Bay community, I suspect we can add one more laurel: Persuading men to get that lifesaving colon cancer screening.

Maybe you're not familiar with Solomon, 58, the University of Tampa football star who went on to NFL fame. If you haven't read it already, go to tampabay.com for my colleague Gary Shelton's excellent article on Solomon, who is being treated for colon cancer that has spread to his liver.

Despite the seriousness of his condition, Solomon is taking time to talk about his cancer battle. I've already heard a few guys say the story has them thinking about getting screened.

Eddie DeBartolo, former owner of Solomon's old team, the 49ers, choked up as he told Shelton: "If he just would have had a damn colonoscopy, just a stupid colonoscopy, this would have all been averted.''

Of course, there are no guarantees in life, and particularly not in medicine. But of all the cancer screening tests we have, colonoscopy is the one most proven to save lives. Not only does the test, in which a thin scope is threaded through the colon, find polyps, the doctor also snips them off right then, potentially stopping cancer before it starts.

Result: Colonoscopies cut the risk of colon cancer by 77 percent over 10 years, according to a recent report. You can't say that for mammograms or PSA tests.

Who needs colonoscopies? Both men and women, starting at age 50, earlier if you have a family history or other risk factors.

Who gets them? Just 65 percent of people who should, according to a recent government survey cited in the current issue of Consumer Reports On Health, which features a terrific report on colon cancer. I've included several facts from it, but highly recommend the full article.

Here are the top reasons people don't get tested:

1. The doctor didn't suggest it

2. They weren't aware of the need for screening

3. The cost of the test

More reasons: It's embarrassing. The results might be scary. The prep is miserable.

I had my first colonoscopy last summer, so I can knock down a few of these. First off, if your doctor doesn't suggest it, ask. Maybe he forgot. Maybe you never listen to her anyway and she's tired of being ignored.

And if you're reading this, you already know whether you might need a colonoscopy.

Embarrassing? Oh please. You'll be asleep the whole time!

Scary? Wouldn't you rather know you have a precancerous polyp than a full-fledged cancer? That's scary.

The prep? You do have to drink a lot of a liquid that is not at all tasty (I used a straw, held my nose and sucked it down as fast as I could. If you're a sipper, chill it to kill the taste at least a little.)

And you will spend lots of time in the bathroom. Warn your family to leave you alone, get a good supply of baby wipes and ointment, and deal with it. The prep is not a lot of fun, but I am certain it is way more fun than cancer.

Only one of these excuses really holds up for me: the cost.

Medicare pays about $800 for a colonoscopy — about $1,000 if anything is removed — and generally the cash price is higher. I've written here about the dispute I had with my insurer over a colonoscopy, but it seems to have been resolved.

Fact is, the 2010 federal health-care reform law requires Medicare and new private insurance to cover most colorectal cancer screening with no co-pays or deductibles.

If you don't have insurance and can't afford the test, don't give up. Call your local health department and community health center to see if you qualify for assistance.

An inexpensive stool test — it can even be done at home — can alert you to a possible problem, though positive results do mean you need a colonoscopy. To learn more, go to www.gettheFITfacts.com. Note: this test is recommended annually; the colonoscopy is once a decade if you have no problems.

Meanwhile, let's all send good wishes to Freddie Solomon, and thank him for serving his community even as he fights for his life.

Charlotte can be reached at sutton@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8425.

UNINSURED?

The Colorectal Cancer Screen for Life program is for uninsured people ages 50-64 who meet certain health and income guidelines. Go to doh.state.fl.us/family/cancer/crc/screening.html or call the program's Greater Tampa site at (941) 748-0747, ext. 1241.

Colonoscopy can be a lifesaver, so just do it

12/02/11 [Last modified: Friday, December 2, 2011 3:30am]

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