Dr. Starpoli's Blog

The Importance of Getting a Colonoscopy to Screen for Colon Cancer

Posted by Anthony A. Starpoli, MD on Apr 27, 2020 7:30:00 AM

It's commonly said that getting annual colonoscopies as you age is something that most people should prioritize. This is especially true for men.

But, recent studies have shown that more and more younger people are beginning to be diagnosed with colon cancer, making colonoscopy screening even more important.

Not everyone understands, though, how the procedure works, its purpose, and why it's so important.

Not sure where to start? Don't worry, we’ve got you covered.

Let's take a look at everything you need to know about getting a colonoscopy. 

What Is a Colonoscopy?

This is a process that involves examining your colon for signs of injury, infection, but most importantly the development of cancer. A colonoscopy is also the only type of screening that can be used to prevent the development of certain types of colon cancers.

During the procedure, a tube called a colonoscope is placed into the rectum. It's equipped with a light and camera so that your doctor can look for any abnormalities.

In addition to screening for cancer, your doctor will also keep an eye out for tumors or polyps.  Most of these can be removed at the time of the examination.  If caught early enough, most conditions are able to be treated successfully.

Since most people will likely have anxiety on the day of the procedure, a sedative is given to patients to help them relax and fall asleep. 

The entire procedure will last approximately 30 to 45 minutes. Some patients may wake up feeling groggy with no memory of going to sleep, but other complications are notably rare.

If you experience symptoms like excessive bloating or bleeding, however, consult your doctor as soon as possible.

Who Is Most at Risk of Developing Colon Cancer?

Although age is the primary risk factor that people think of, there's a handful of others that could play a role in influencing your likelihood of being diagnosed with the condition.

We'll briefly go over a few of the most noteworthy.

Age

Those over the age of 50 are more likely to develop some sort of colon cancer. Although, as previously mentioned, cases in people younger than 50 have become increasingly common, occurrring in younger females involving the rectum specifically.

Ethnic Background

Interestingly, DNA mutations in people with specific types of Jewish heritage have resulted in these individuals being more prone to developing colon cancer.

More specifically, approximately 6-8% of Ashkenazi Jews are genetically predisposed to developing higher incidences of colon cancer. So, it's important for those of this ethnic background to get screened regularly.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

This condition includes both Crohn's Disease and ulcerative colitis. Those who have been diagnosed with either of these should prioritize routine screening.

Lifestyle Choices

Your regular behavior can also play a large role in determining your risk. fortunately, though, they are all preventable.

Obesity and a lack of regular physical activity are two of the most common lifestyle choices that can influence your likelihood of developing this condition. Eating large quantities of red meat and excessive alcohol consumption can also put you more at risk as well as being overweight or obese.

Family History

Some people inherit traits that make them genetically predisposed to developing colon cancer. Unfortunately, it's still possible for a healthy individual with good lifestyle choices to be diagnosed with this condition due to their DNA.

In general, people with multiple family members who have been diagnosed with some form of colon cancer before the age of 60 should consider themselves at higher risk than normal.

How Do I Know If I Should Schedule a Colonoscopy?

There may come a time where you need to schedule an appointment for a colonoscopy in between routine screenings. In general, the following symptoms are often reasons to do so:

  • Abdominal pain/bloating
  • Severe cramps
  • Sudden unexplained weight loss
  • Bloody stool
  • Ongoing fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Change in bowel habits

While many (if not all) of these symptoms can have other causes, it's important to take them into consideration if you're already at an increased risk for developing colon cancer. 

Similarly, if you experience any of the above symptoms for an extended period of time, you should schedule a visit with your doctor as soon as possible. 

How Should I Prepare For a Colonoscopy?

During the days before your appointment, it's important to clear your schedule so that you can relax. You'll also need to change your diet starting the day before the procedure.

In general, you will be placed on a clear liquid diet the day before the examination.  You should avoid foods that are high in fiber in the few days prior. 

If you regularly take medication, you may need to stop taking them entirely or limit the amount that you take. Your doctor will be able to tell you which is best for you.  

On the day before your colonoscopy, your diet should be composed entirely of liquids. Water, black coffee or tea in moderation, and pulpless, clear juices and broth are common choices that people consume during this time.  No solid foods are consumed.  Please refer to the instuctions given to you by your doctor.

The night before and the morning of the colonoscopy, patients will need to consume a prescribed drink that cleanses their bowels. Although notably unpleasant, it's a necessary part of the process to ensure that no complications arise.  This two part preparation is referred to a split dose prep.  It has been shown to produce the cleanest results.

On the day of the procedure, your diet should consist of clear liquids.  However, ususually you should stop oral intake 2-4 hours prior to your procedure. 

Getting a Colonoscopy Can Seem Intimidating

But, it doesn't have to be.

With the above information about getting a colonoscopy in mind, you'll be well on your way toward making sure everything goes as smoothly as possible.

Want to learn more about how we can help? Feel free to get in touch with us today to see what we can do for you.

colon cancer, rectal bleeding, colonoscopy, constipation