Do I need a Colonoscopy?

Many people shiver at the thought of going into the doctor’s office for a colonoscopy. There is a certain stigma surrounding colonoscopies that exaggerates the discomfort but fails to highlight the life-saving benefits of the test. Unfortunately, this stigma dissuades people that may be at risk from going in for a checkup only because they're afraid of potential embarrassment or do not want to participate in the bowel-cleaning preparation measures. In this post, we want to end this stigma by discussing what a colonoscopy checks for, why you should get one and when is the best time to go in for a checkup.

What Does a Colonoscopy Check?

During a colonoscopy, a doctor utilizes a “colonoscope” which is a lighted hollow tube fitted with a camera on the end to examine the patient’s colon.  When examining the colon, the doctor is looking for evidence of cancer and precancerous growths known as polyps. This outpatient procedure generally takes around half an hour and does not involve any pain or discomfort for the patient during or after the procedure as intravenous sedation is used.

Why SHOULD YOU HAVE A COLONOSCOPY?

Colonoscopy is one of the only cancer screenings to combine detection and treatment. It is referred to as the "gold standard" for colorectal cancer. During the testing, if the physician detects polyps, they can be removed during the same visit to reduce your chances of developing colon cancer. Colorectal cancer is the 3rd most common cancer worldwide with 1.4 million new cases each year and the 2nd leading cause of cancer related deaths among cancers affecting both men and women. Colorectal cancer leads to ~ 50,000 deaths yearly in the U.S alone. In addition, 60% of colorectal cancer deaths could have been prevented with proper screening. 

When?

Deciding when to go in for a colonoscopy depends on a number of factors including presence of symptoms, family history of colon cancer etc. However, the general rule of thumb is to go in once you turn 50. Research shows that approximately 90% of new colorectal cancer cases occur after the age of 50. Experts also advise that if one of your first-degree relatives has been diagnosed with colon cancer, screening should start at age 35 to 40 for safe measure. In an average risk person with a normal colonoscopy at age 50, a follow up exam is recommended every 10 years. However, if polyps are found and/or if there is family history of colorectal cancer or colon polyps, subsequent colonoscopies may be recommended sooner. Colorectal cancer may or may not cause any symptoms until an advanced stage. Therefore, a colonoscopy is recommended at age 50 regardless of presence of symptoms. However, if you experience any of the following symptoms of colorectal cancer you should go in for a colonoscopy immediately:

  1. Blood in stool
  2. Change in bowel habits that lasts more than a few days
  3. Unintended weight loss
  4. Abdominal cramping

We hope this post has addressed basic questions and concerns regarding colonoscopies and why they are so important. If you fall into any of the above mentioned categories, consider discussing a screening colonoscopy with your doctor. References:

  1. https://www.asge.org

Reviewed by:  Dr. Rajan Kochar Springfield, IL, USA

Colorectal Surgery, Gastroenterology


Related Articles: