Vail Daily health feature: March is National Colon Cancer Awareness Month |

Vail Daily health feature: March is National Colon Cancer Awareness Month

The colon, highlighted here, is also called the large intestine. During a colonoscopy, a doctor looks at the inner lining of your colon using a thin, flexible tube called a colonoscope, which has a camera attached to the end.
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March is National Colon Cancer Awareness Month, but how much do you really want to be aware of your colon?

Answer: Enough to keep it cancer free.

Colon cancer is preventable, treatable and beatable, and men and women age 50 and older are encouraged to get a colonoscopy every 10 years to find polyps — benign, or noncancerous, clumps of cells — before they become cancerous. Those with a family history of colon cancer should consider screening before age 50.

Dr. John Schultz is a surgeon with Mountain Surgical Associates at Vail Valley Medical Center. He explains how colon cancer, unlike other cancers, can actually be prevented.

“With colon cancer, we can actually take out polyps before they ever lead to cancer,” he said.

The colonoscopy procedure isn’t so bad, said Dr. Schultz, and here are five reasons why:

1. You get cleaned out.

Schultz said the most extensive part of the preparation process begins the day before the colonoscopy. It’s a full clearing of the bowels, and the prep solution and clear liquid diet can make you uncomfortable and hungry, but Schultz said a lot of patients take it as a sort of cleansing.

“You find all that bubble gum that’s stuck in there,” Schultz said, “which some people actually look forward to.”

2. You’ll have a great nap.

“We give the patients medication to put them to sleep,” he explained. “People love it because it’s a restful, peaceful sleep, and then they wake up after the procedure, sometimes wondering when we’re going to start!”

3. It gives you and your loved ones peace of mind.

Colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths among both men and women, so getting the recommended screening saves your behind and your peace of mind.

Possibly the best part of getting a colonoscopy is the fact that you are preventing the possibility of getting colon cancer. Catching the polyps and clearing them out is the ideal way to alleviate worry and concern for this type of cancer — one that you can actually nip in the butt.

4. You’ll be on the “good side” of the statistics.

The five-year survival rate for colon cancer found at the local stage is 90 percent, and the five-year survival rate for the cancer found at the regional stage is 70 percent.

Once the cancer has become a distant stage, the survival rates drop dramatically to 12 percent — so keep it local by getting screened at age 50, or when you’re recommended to by a doctor.

5. It’s a once-a-decade kind of thing.

You get your teeth cleaned every six months and wash your dishes every day, but you only need to clean your colon and get it screened every 10 years, and then after age 75, you can stop.

“For people who have average risk, it’s recommended that they get a colonoscopy once every 10 years — that’s not so bad,” Dr. Schultz said. “And who knows, 10 years from now we might be using the Star Trek tricorder and won’t need to use colonoscopies. Now, however, it’s one of the best things you can do to prevent colon cancer from happening.”


Mountain Surgical Associates performs colonoscopies and endoscopies at Vail Valley Medical Center. Appointments can be scheduled by calling 970-479-5036. Mountain Surgical Associates is open Mondays through Fridays, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Vail, Edwards and Eagle. For more information, visit

Kim Fuller was contracted by Vail Valley Medical Center to write this story. Email comments to

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