Colonoscopies Save Lives!

Colonoscopies Save Lives!

March is national colorectal cancer awareness month so we’re doing our part to help you understand the benefits of screening and early detection. Colon cancer, also referred to as colorectal cancer, is a combination of colon cancer and rectal cancer. It affects the first and longest part of the large intestine (the colon) and the rectum. It typically occurs in older adults but can happen to anyone. Colon cancer starts with the growth of benign polyps, but if left unchecked, they can turn into cancer. Physicians recommend colorectal screening to identify and remove polyps before they become cancerous. Because individuals with polyps generally have no symptoms, there is no motivation to seek medical attention. This is the main reason why regular screening is necessary.

Symptoms of colon cancer can include:

  • A change in normal bowel habits like more frequent diarrhea or constipation
  • Blood in the stool
  • Prolonged stomach discomfort like cramps, gas or pain
  • Feeling like the bowel doesn’t empty during bowel movements
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Loss of weight without trying

There are numerous risk factors for colorectal cancer which include being overweight, physical inactivity, diets high in red meat, alcohol use, smoking, family history of colon cancer, personal history of polyps, age, history of inflammatory bowel disease and race. For individuals over the age of 45 with no risk factors, doctors recommend a colonoscopy every 10 years. Patients with risk factors will likely need more frequent testing. A colonoscopy might be recommended to identify the cause of abdominal pain, rectal pain or chronic diarrhea in addition to looking for more polyps if a patient has had them before.

The purpose of a colonoscopy is to look for changes in the large intestine and rectum. A long tube with a video camera is inserted in the rectum so the doctor can see and identify swollen, irritated tissue or cancer. Polyps and abnormal tissue can also be removed during the process. The procedure is typically conducted under general anesthesia. When the exam is complete, it takes about an hour to recover from the sedative. You won’t be able to drive, but aside from some minor bloating, gas or pressure, the after-effects are minor.

A negative colonoscopy indicates no abnormalities in the colon. The next recommended colonoscopy will depend on the risk factors present or any personal history. If the doctor finds any polyps or abnormal tissue, the result is considered positive. Polyps are sent to a laboratory to determine if they are cancerous. After a positive colonoscopy result, a more rigorous testing schedule is likely to be recommended.

It is recommended that adults with no symptoms or family history begin colorectal screening starting at age 45 since colorectal cancer is highly treatable and often curable, with rates as high as 91%, if detected early.


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