Colorectal Cancer (Colonoscopy)
Most people are familiar with a colonoscopy as a diagnostic procedure. But that doesn’t mean everyone knows why you should undergo this particular screening.
Usually, a colonoscopy is performed to detect the early formation of colorectal cancer. Often, early symptoms of this disease are too easy to dismiss. But early detection is critical to successful treatment. A colonoscopy is the best way to detect colorectal cancer early and enable life-saving treatment when necessary.
What is Colorectal Cancer?
Your colon, also known as your large intestine, is part of your digestive tract and is responsible for helping you to process food. Colorectal cancer–often known simply as colon cancer–is a specific type of growth that impacts the large intestine.
Colon cancer usually begins as a small growth of polyps. These polyps may look like tiny bumps in the lining of your intestine. In the vast majority of cases, these polyps are harmless. Over time, however, some of these growths may become cancerous. That’s why polyps are usually removed when they are first detected.
Growths in the colon can sometimes result in bloody or discolored stool. However, they most often present as symptomless. That’s why screening is critical. Colon cancer is, unfortunately, often detected at a very late stage. As a result, the disease has earned the unfortunate moniker of “the silent killer.” And with colon cancer rates on the rise, effective screening is more important than ever.
When Should You Get a Colonoscopy?
You can develop colorectal cancer at any age. However, this particular disease becomes more common as you grow older. As a result, most physicians recommend patients begin screening for this type of cancer at the age of 45.
In general, colorectal screenings follow these guidelines:
- Under age 45: In general, those under age 45 will not need to undergo colorectal cancer screenings unless their health, family history, or other individual factors warrant early screenings.
- Ages 45-75: You should undergo your first routine colonoscopy by the time you are 45 years old. You should continue to undergo regular screenings until the age of 75.
- Ages 76-85: Patients between the ages of 76-85 should discuss their colorectal screenings with their doctors. Regular screenings may or may not be appropriate, depending on your preferences, life expectancy, and risk factors.
- Over age 85: In general, colorectal screenings are no longer recommended for those over the age of 85.
There are several different screening types. You should talk to your doctor about whether you’re better served by a colonoscopy or a fecal test (or both).
How Often Should You Undergo a Colonoscopy?
The frequency of your recommended colonoscopy or other colon screenings will generally depend on your risk profile. If your initial colonoscopy shows no signs of cancer or growth, you may only need to get one every ten years. But if you have a higher risk profile or if polyps are detected, you may need to undergo screenings more often. Your doctor will be able to tell you how often.
Risk Factors for Colorectal Cancer
As we age the risk of developing cancers increases. There are other factors that put you at risk of colorectal cancer:
- Inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
- A personal or family history of colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps.
- A genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome).
Lifestyle risk factors:
- Lack of regular physical activity.
- A diet low in fruit and vegetables.
- A low-fiber and high-fat diet, or a diet high in processed meats.
- Overweight and obesity.
- Alcohol consumption.
- Tobacco use. For help with quitting tobacco talk to your doctor or contact the SD Quitline or call 1-866-SD-QUITS
Schedule an appointment with your primary care provider and discuss your colorectal cancer risks and which screening method is right for you.
Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer
You may be at increased risk due to family or personal history. It’s important to see your health care provider annually for a physical and talk to him or her about any health concerns you may have. Know your family history and make sure it is documented in your medical history.
Tell your doctor if you have any of these symptoms:
- Blood in or on your stool (bowel movement).
- Stomach pain, aches or cramps that do not go away.
- Losing weight and you don’t know why.
These symptoms may be caused by something other than cancer, but the only way to know what is causing them is to speak with your doctor about them.
Colorectal Cancer Screening
There are several options available to screen for colorectal cancer. The right one for you will depend on several factors. You and your doctor will decide which one is best for you.
- Stool tests
- Guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT)
- Fecal immunochemical test (FIT)
- FIT-DNA test
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy
- CT colonography
Learn more about each test on the CDC’s website.
What Happens During a Colonoscopy?
One of the most common colorectal screening techniques is a procedure called a colonoscopy. Most patients know they’ll need a colonoscopy at some point–but many people have questions about what actually happens during the diagnostic procedure.
Before your colonoscopy begins, you’ll likely be given a sedative. Some patients prefer general anesthesia for the screening. That’s something that you can discuss with your physician!
Once you are comfortably laying on your side, your doctor will insert a special device called a colonoscope into your rectum. This is a thin, flexible tube that has a camera attached to the end of it. Your doctor will then search for signs of irritation, growths, or other possible issues.
In some cases, biopsies and removal of tissue can be performed during the colonoscopy itself.
How Do You Prepare for a Colonoscopy?
Your doctor will likely give you special instructions as the date of your colonoscopy appointment approaches. Those instructions may include the following:
- You’ll be asked to avoid certain foods. Most patients are asked to avoid solid food for 24 hours before their appointment. You’ll also be asked to avoid drinking any liquids that aren’t clear.
- Talk to your doctor about medication: Before your procedure, you may have to talk to your doctor about the medications you’re on–and make some small alterations where necessary.
- Take a laxative: Many doctors will prescribe strong doses of laxatives before colonoscopies. This helps ensure that your colon is relatively clear and it’s easy to view.
A colonoscopy is a very routine procedure, but you may still have questions about what will happen. Be sure to talk to your doctor about any questions you may have.
The Bottom Line . . . Get Screened!
Providing our patients at Yankton Medical Clinic P.C. Norfolk we provide our patients with the latest technologies and procedures in Colorectal care.
The American Cancer Society lists colorectal cancer as the second most common cause of cancer death in cancers that affect both men and women. Early detection of any cancer is key to successful treatment and survival rates. The recommended age for regular colorectal cancer screenings has recently been lowered to age 45.
There are a variety of screening tools available, visit your primary care physician to see which test is right for you. If you need to establish with a primary care provider visit our find a provider page.
Insurance & Medicare Coverage
Most insurance plans and Medicare help pay for colorectal cancer screening for people who are 45 years old or older. Colorectal cancer screening tests may be covered by your health insurance policy without a deductible or co-pay. If you have specific questions about covered benefits on your policy, call the customer service phone number on the back of your insurance card. For more information about Medicare coverage visit the Medicare website or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).