When your doctor first suggested a colonoscopy, did you grimace? You’re not alone. Studies show it often takes people several years to actually get a colonoscopy even after being urged by family, friends and doctors to have one! Talking about bowel health and thinking about a colonoscopy makes many of us squeamish, but it’s extremely important.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC),colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon and rectum) is the second-most-deadly cancer in the U.S., among cancers affecting both men and women. The American Cancer Society estimates there will be nearly 100,000 new cases of colon cancer and 40,000 new cases of rectal cancer in the U.S. this year. But the good news is, colon cancer is preventable.
With screening, colorectal cancer can often be found early, when it is most likely to be curable. In many cases, screening also can prevent colorectal cancer altogether. This is because some polyps, or benign growths, can be found and removed during colonoscopy before they have the chance to turn into cancer.
“We strive to provide patients with the best medical care available today and to improve the quality of life for patients and future generations at risk of developing this disease by making it preventable, more manageable or curable,” said Dr. Susan Galandiuk, a colon and rectal surgeon with UofL Physicians – Colon and Rectal Surgery.
Colonoscopy is the most common and most accurate colorectal screening test. A colonoscopy is an internal examination of the colon (large intestine) and rectum, using an instrument called a colonoscope. The colonoscope has a small camera attached to a flexible tube that can reach and examine the entire length of the colon. Regular screening is recommended to begin at age 50, unless you have a family history.
If you have a first-degree relative with colorectal cancer, this greatly increases your own risk. In this case, you should begin screening at age 40, or 10 years of age before your relative’s cancer diagnosis, whichever occurs earlier.
What to expect
First, you will need to completely cleanse your intestines the night before your colonoscopy for an accurate examination. Your health care provider will give you instructions. Although many people dread the preparation required for a colonoscopy, if you did not thoroughly clean your intestines, a problem in your large intestine may be missed during the test.
On the day of your screening, you usually will be given a medicine to help you relax and not feel any discomfort. You will be awake during the test and may even be able to speak, but you will likely not remember anything about the exam afterwards. You should be able to go home about one hour after the test and you must plan to have someone take you home. You can return to normal activities the following day.
Other reasons for a colonoscopy
In addition to screening for colorectal cancer, colonoscopy may be used to evaluate the following:
- Abdominal pain, changes in bowel movements, or weight loss
- Abnormal findings (such as polyps) found through other screenings
- Anemia because of low iron
- Blood in the stool or black, tarry stools
- Follow-up of a past finding, such as polyps or colon cancer
- Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis)
The end justifies the means…
It’s not so bad. Whether it’s your first or your 10th, a colonoscopy can help you have a healthy, longer life and it should be the test we love to appreciate.
Dr. Galandiuk also says, “An aspirin a day helps keep colorectal cancer away,” but you should still be screened.
UofL Physicians – Colon and Rectal Surgery offers screening colonoscopies. To learn more visit their website.