Colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in the US, but with regular screenings, it is very preventable. March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, a good time to discuss the importance of colon cancer screening any month of the year!
How can you most effectively screen for colon cancer?
The most common effective way to screen and prevent colon cancer is with a colonoscopy. In most patients, colon cancers can live in the gut for many years, so symptoms do not become apparent until it is too late. Colorectal cancer is one of the few cancers that can be detected in its pre-cancer state and be treated before ever causing long-term harm to patients.
What is the recommended age a person should get a colonoscopy?
For many years, the recommended age for colonoscopy has been 50 years of age. New data is suggesting that many cancers are starting at an earlier age, however. Screening guidelines have been updated and now low to average risk screening begins at age 45. Check with your PCP to determine your risk level and the appropriate age to begin regular screening for colon cancer. Also check with your insurance company to make sure they cover colonoscopy if you choose to screen before 50 years of age.
What misconceptions do people have about getting a colonoscopy?
One of the most common misconceptions about getting a colonoscopy is that you have to have the procedure done often. However, in most cases, a colonoscopy is a procedure you only need every 5 to 10 years.
Another common misconception is that you are going to have pain either during or after the colonoscopy, and neither of those are true. In most cases, patients come in after a night of doing a prep, have their procedure done and they then realize it was not as nearly as bad as they envisioned it.
What are some of the signs/symptoms to look out for?
There are a number of symptoms that could be warning signs. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed below, you should talk to your primary care provider or contact one of our gastroenterologists:
- Changes in bowel habits
- Rectal bleeding, dark or black stool
- Abdominal pain, particularly if it is new or bothersome (gas, cramps, pain or feeling bloated)
- Weight loss
- Change in appetite
- Weakness or fatigue
- Nausea or vomiting
How long does it take to get a colonoscopy?
Patients scheduled for a colonoscopy can expect to be in for about 2.5 hours total, from check-in to recovery, when having this procedure performed. The procedure itself is very straightforward, it is done with the patient under sedation and takes about 30 minutes. A colonoscopy includes looking through the entire lining of the colon and removing any pre-cancerous polyps. Afterwards, there is another 30 minute or so recovery. So, patients are in and out the same day. When you leave, you can actually resume your regular diet and get back to your usual activities very shortly.
What are other risk factors that people should know about colon cancer?
Family history is an extremely important piece of information that your healthcare provider can use to assess your risk level for colon cancer. This is the one thing that is readily available to you and helps your physician make better decisions about how to manage your care. If you have a family history of colon cancer and/or family history of colon polyps, you should consult with your doctor to determine if earlier screening is necessary. It could save your life!
Anderson Hospital Surgery and Endoscopy Center offers a convenient facility for safe and comfortable colonoscopy. We remain committed to providing the care our patients depend on. We have taken several safety measures during hte pandemic to keep you safe and provide peace of mind during your visit.