The best defense against colorectal cancer is a regular colonoscopy screening. The American Cancer Society recommends routine screenings beginning at age 50, earlier for people at higher risks (such a as family history of colon cancer or colon polyps). Because the screening allows the gastroenterologist direct visual examination of the inside of the entire colon, a colonoscopy is considered the “gold standard” screening method. Also, any precancerous polyps found during the screening can be removed during the procedure, preventing their progression to colorectal cancer.
Why Do I Need a Colonoscopy Screening?
- You're 50 years of age or older. After the age of 50, men and women both see an increased risk of colon cancer, even with no other risk factors.
- Your physician wants to rule out serious gastrointestinal disorders and find the best treatment for your symptoms.
- You have a family history of colorectal cancer or colon polyps. As many as 1 in 5 people who develop colon cancer have family who have been affected by the disease.
The Colonoscopy Screening Procedure
Colonoscopy is used to directly see the lining of the colon to look for conditions such as cancer, colitis (inflammation of the colon) and diverticular disease (small pockets on the colon). Colonoscopy may also be used to investigate unexplained diarrhea, bleeding and anemia. Sometimes colonoscopy is used to evaluate an abnormality seen on other imaging tests such as CT scans and barium studies.
A GI specialist trained in colonoscopies uses a flexible instrument with a light and miniature camera on the tip, called an endoscope. The “scope” is placed in the rectum and advances through the colon. The camera displays images on the TV for your gastroenterologist to watch while performing the colonoscopy.
When used as a colon cancer prevention method, a colonoscopy screen can find precancerous growths (polyps) and remove them during your colonoscopy before they metastasize into colon or another form of cancer.
Colonoscopy Screening Frequently Asked Questions
Most people do not find this procedure painful, and you will be given medication so that you sleep throughout the test. During the test air will be pumped into the colon to keep it open and allow for clear imaging. This air pressure may cause discomfort and cramping after the procedure that is temporary.
Because your physician will need to be able to see clearly inside your colon, the bowels will need to be as cleaned out as much as possible. This will require avoidance of certain foods and medicines, and we may put you on a special diet a few days before the procedure. You will also take strong laxatives to prepare for the test, so you may wish to arrange to be home before the procedure. We will give you instructions and answer any question you have.
Usually small polyps are removed during the test. If the physician sees a large polyp, tumor, or something else abnormal a biopsy will be performed. This will be sent to a lab for testing.
The frequency of testing varies, depending on your specific circumstances. Those getting the recommended screening at age 50 will be told how often follow up screening is needed depending on test results. If colonoscopy is needed as part of treatment for a GI condition your physician will also recommend them periodically, and will discuss the recommendation with you.