When your doctor first suggested a colonoscopy, did you frown? You’re not alone. Studies show it often takes people several years to 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 leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States for both men and women. The American Cancer Society estimates there will be nearly 107,000 new cases of colon cancer and 46,000 new cases of rectal cancer in the U.S. this year. The good news is, colorectal 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 a colonoscopy before they have the chance to turn into cancer.
A colonoscopy is the most common and 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 45 unless you have a family history of colorectal cancer.
If your parent, sibling(s) or child has had 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 for Your Colonoscopy
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 medicine to help you relax and feel more comfortable. You will be awake during the test and may even be able to speak, but you will likely not remember anything about the exam afterward. 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, a 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
Colonoscopies are not so bad. Whether it’s your first or your tenth, a colonoscopy can help you have a healthy, longer life and it should be the test we love to appreciate.
To find a location to be screened for colon and rectal cancer, visit UofLHealth.org/Services/Colorectal-Screenings. You can also call the UofL Health – Brown Cancer Center – Cancer Screening Program at 502-210-4497. If you have symptoms, talk with your primary care provider as soon as possible.