A test that could save your life

Why bother analyzing engine oil after a change, conducting a preflight check, or performing preventative maintenance, especially when the odds of actually uncovering a problem are slim? Because these actions protect you from something that could be costly, or fatal. 

Extend the aviation analogy to a medical condition that kills about 1,000 Americans every week: colorectal cancer. Though you can take actions to protect yourself, far too many people effectively die of ignorance from an almost completely avoidable disease. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1.84 percent of 50-year-old men will develop colorectal cancer within 20 years—that's almost two out of every hundred men. For women, the numbers are a little lower: 1.37 percent. Given the average age of AOPA members is 53, several thousand of our colleagues will be diagnosed with this disease in the next few years and none need to if they would only get a colonoscopy.

Yes, I said it in public, and I am not blushing: colonoscopy. You will drink fluids for a day, clean out your colon by drinking some unpleasant stuff, and after spending an inordinate amount of time on the “john” or “loo” as we Brits call it, you will visit the doctor’s office or hospital for the procedure. You will have a nice snooze while your derriere is inspected, probed, and photographed, and either receive a clean bill of health if your colon is clean or contemporaneous removal of any precancerous polyps lurking inside.

Almost all colorectal cancers arise within polyps, little cauliflower-like outgrowths that take years to become truly nasty, and if they're removed during colonoscopy all one needs is regular review and to report the matter to your aviation medical examiner. If you fail to deal with polyps they eventually turn malignant, and you are now looking at major surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy, the possibility of a colostomy, a reduced life expectancy, and interference with your flying privileges. 

In my native Britain they instituted a national screening program for this disease and are already seeing dramatic reductions in the number of colon cancers coming to surgery; that means fewer people dying prematurely. My British colorectal colleagues are deliriously happy, for not only are they having to tell fewer people that they have cancer, but they now have more time to work on their golf game. OK, that second part is not true; few doctors play golf. They prefer tennis. 

We saw a similar effect but to a lesser degree in the United States when Katie Couric, who lost her husband to colon cancer, put embarrassment aside and had a colonoscopy on television. Many people followed Couric’s lead, and I take my hat off to her for that selfless act. So don’t be a chump; expose your rump and beat the odds. And fly well. 

Jonathan Sackier
Dr. Jonathan Sackier is an expert in aviation medical concerns and helps members with their needs through AOPA Pilot Protection Services.
Topics: Pilot Protection Services, AOPA Products and Services, People

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