Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States, excluding skin cancers. The American Cancer Society estimates that 95,270 new cases of colon cancer and 39,220 new cases of rectal cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2016.
Colorectal cancer screening helps people stay well — and it saves lives. One of the most effective ways of preventing colorectal cancer is through regular colorectal cancer testing — like colonoscopies — which helps find the disease early when it is small and easier to treat.
Screening for colorectal cancer is easy and relatively painless. But oftentimes, people don’t get any of these screening tests, allowing the cancer to grow and spread without being noticed.
Colonoscopies, one of the most common tests used to screen for colorectal cancer, are important for both men and women.
What is a colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy is an exam, usually done by a gastroenterologist, used to identify changes or abnormalities in the large intestine (colon) and rectum of men and women over the age of 50. The exam is often used to diagnose colorectal/colon cancer, ulcers, tumors, inflammatory bowel disease and polyps — growths on the lining of the colon — before they become cancer.
Who is at risk?
People with a family history of colon cancer are highly at risk and some often receive their first screening during their teenage years.
How often should I get screened?
It is recommended that men and women have screening colonoscopy done every 10 years beginning at age 50.
What are the benefits of getting screened?
Colonoscopies can prevent approximately two thirds of deaths in our country due to colorectal cancers.
How can I prepare for the procedure?
The colon must be free of solid matter for the test to be performed properly. For one to three days prior to the colonoscopy, the patient must follow a low fiber or clear-liquid diet including apple juice, chicken and/or beef broth or bouillon, lemon-lime soda, lemonade, sports drink, and water. It is very important that the patient remain hydrated.
What happens during the procedure?
Prior to the procedure, patients are given medicine to relax and sleep. A flexible tube about four feet long is inserted into the rectum of the individual with a small video camera at the tip of the tube which allows the doctor to see the inside of the colon in its entirety. Biopsies can be taken from this and if needed, polyps or other types of abnormal tissue can be removed as well.
Does a colonoscopy hurt?
Some patients may experience slight discomfort, though most people do not find these exams painful.
How long is the procedure?
The exam itself takes about 30 minutes. However, patients often wake up groggy because of the medicine given for the exam, so it is important that you are accompanied by someone who can drive you home.
What if an abnormality is found during the procedure?
If a small polyp is found, the doctor will probably remove it. If the doctor sees a large polyp, a tumor, or anything else abnormal, a biopsy will be done and then sent to a lab to be checked for cancer or pre-cancer cells.
Why are colonoscopies valuable?
Colorectal cancer screening helps people stay healthy. Many times, colonoscopies save lives because they help diagnose colorectal cancer early when it is easier to treat.
Raymond B. Sandler, MD, is a gastroenterologist at Jackson North Medical Center and Jackson Memorial Hospital. Last year, he performed more than 1,500 colonoscopies. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call the Jackson North Multispecialty Center at 305-654-6850.