Colorectal cancer is the nation’s second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths; however, it is one of only a few cancers that can be prevented. Colorectal cancer almost always develops from abnormal growths (polyps) in the colon or rectum.
One of the most common and effective tests used to screen for colon cancer is a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy can find polyps, so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. Colonoscopy also can find colorectal cancer early, when treatment works best.
MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper and the American Cancer Society recommend that average-risk men and women begin colorectal cancer screenings at age 50 (45 for African Americans). It is important to note that your risk of developing colorectal cancer is increased if you have a personal or family history of colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps, personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, or specific inherited syndromes. Such patients need to begin screening at age 40 or younger.
Most insurance providers will cover colon cancer screenings at 100 percent with no copay. MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper provides free colon cancer screening to men and women who are uninsured or underinsured. Click here for more information about free colon cancer screenings.
What to expect during your colonoscopy
During a colonoscopy a doctor looks at the entire length of the colon and rectum with thin, flexible, lighted tube with a small video camera on the end. Special instruments can be passed through the scope to biopsy (sample) or remove any suspicious-looking areas such as polyps, if needed. The doctor also puts air into the colon through the scope to make it easier to see the lining of the colon and use the instruments to perform the test.
Preparing for your colonoscopy
In order for the doctor to thoroughly examine the colon and rectum, your bowels must be completely empty and clean. Your doctor will give you specific instructions on how to prepare for the colonoscopy.
It’s important to read them carefully a few days ahead of time, since you may need to follow a special diet for at least a day before the test and to shop for supplies and laxatives. If you’re not sure about any of the instructions, call the doctor’s office and go over them with the nurse.
During your colonoscopy
The test itself usually takes about 30 minutes. Before it starts, you’ll be given a sedating medicine (into a vein) to make you feel relaxed and sleepy during the procedure. For most people, this medicine makes them unaware of what’s going on and unable to remember the procedure afterward. Because a sedative is used during the test, you will need to arrange for someone you know to take you home after the test.
The doctor will look at the inner walls of the colon as he or she slowly removes the scope. If a small polyp is found, it may be removed and then sent to a lab to be checked if it has any areas that have changed into cancer. This is because some small polyps may become cancer over time.
If your doctor sees a larger polyp or tumor or anything else abnormal, a biopsy may be done. A small piece of tissue is taken out through the scope and the tissue is checked in the lab to see if it is cancer, a benign (non-cancerous) growth, or inflammation.
After your colonoscopy
Because a sedative is used during the test, you will need to arrange for someone you know to take you home after the test is completed. Because air is pumped into the colon during the test, people sometimes feel bloated, have gas pains, or have cramping for a while after the test until the air passes out.
If a polyp is removed or a biopsy is done during the colonoscopy, you might notice some blood in your stool for a day or two after the test. Serious bleeding is uncommon, but in rare cases, bleeding might need to be treated or can even be life-threatening.
Other types of colon cancer screening
It is important to remember that the best colon cancer screening test is the test that is done — and any test is better than no test. The gold standard is a colonoscopy but there are other screening tests available exams including stool test for blood (FIT), barium enema (X-ray), stool DNA (Cologard), and CT colonoscopy. To determine which screening test is best for your individual needs, speak with your doctor. If any of these alternate tests are positive they should be followed up with a colonoscopy for further evaluation.
Remember, for average risk individuals with no symptoms, screening should begin at age 50 (45 for African Americans). If you have symptoms or increased risks, speak to your doctor. What other ways can you reduce colon cancer risks? Don’t smoke, limit alcohol consumption, exercise, and maintain a healthy weight. Also be sure to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Schedule your colonoscopy today!
Click here to schedule your colonoscopy with a Cooper Digestive Health specialist today, or call 856.642.2133.