(CNN) — In my 20s, after my doctor performed a laparoscopy to examine my uterus and ovaries, he gave me a videotape of the procedure. I dubbed it “Madame Ovary,” threw a party and screened it for my friends.
Three years ago, when my doctor sent me to have a colonoscopy, the last thing on my mind was seeing footage from the exam.
At 39, I was mortified about having a procedure that I associated with older people. I didn’t even want to talk about it, let alone see it.
But March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, so I’m coming clean. While drinking two liters of liquid that tastes like dirty sea water to evacuate my bowels doesn’t rank highly on my list of things to do, neither does dying from colon cancer. And having a colonoscopy, although unpleasant and embarrassing, was one of the best things I have ever done for my health.
Of all cancers affecting both men and women, colorectal cancer —cancer of the colon or rectum — is the second-leading killer in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Overall, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is 1 in 20, and up to 150,000 new cases a year are reported in the United States, the American Cancer Society says. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that removing precancerous growths spotted during a colonoscopy can cut the risk of dying from colon cancer in half. More than 95% of tumors are detected during a colonoscopy.