Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of non-skin cancer in women (after breast and lung cancer). It is the second leading cause of cancer death among men and women in the US. A screening colonoscopy has the ability to both detect and prevent colon cancer.
What is a Colonoscopy?
Colonoscopies are performed by a physician specializing in gastrointestinal or colon and rectal diseases. It is an exam used to detect abnormalities in the colon (large intestine) and rectum. A thin flexible tube called a colonoscope with a small video camera at the end is used to inspect the entire colon and rectum. This exam allows detection of cancers in the early stages before they produce symptoms. Polyps (precancerous lesions) found during this exam are removed and may prevent colon cancer from developing. IV sedation is used to minimize any discomfort during the exam.
When should I be screened?
Persons of average risk with no symptoms should begin colon cancer screening at age 50. If you have no polyps or abnormalities it is usually recommended to have another colonoscopy in 10 years. People with a family history of colorectal cancer may need to start screening at an earlier age and may need colonoscopies at a more frequent interval than every 10 years. Other factors that may increase the risk for colon cancer and prompt earlier and more frequent screening are a family history of colon polyps, a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis. Colonoscopies may also be recommended in people with pain, bleeding, chronic constipation or diarrhea.
Isn’t there some other way?
Colonoscopy is the preferred and recommended screening test as it can both detect and prevent cancers by finding precancerous polyps. Tests such as take home fecal occult blood tests are much less sensitive and mainly find cancers at a later stage. Virtual colonoscopy or CT colonography is not used as a standard screening test and does not allow a biopsy to be performed or removal of polyps. When an abnormality is found the patient still needs to undergo a colonoscopy. And this exam also requires emptying out your colon for visualization.
Discuss your individual need for a screening colonoscopy with your provider at Southdale ObGyn and we can help you arrange it. Happy New Year!
Watch this quick video from the American Gastroenterological Association