Colonoscopy is a procedure that evokes mixed reactions amongst most adults. Most people don't look forward to the preparation for a colonoscopy, much less the procedure itself. But improvements in the procedure in recent years have led to most people not having a terrible experience. It is of paramount importance to undergo the examination if your age exceeds 50 years or if you have a relative who has had cancer of the large intestines. A colonoscopy allows your doctor to examine your colon’s interior lining to detect ulcers and growths that can develop into cancer and inflamed areas.
Checking for cancer of the large intestines and rectum (also known as colorectal cancer) has saved many lives. This is form of cancer can be avoided through an examination that detects and removes polyps that can potentially develop into cancer.
Yet, approximately a third to half of Americans who are over 50 don’t receive the prescribed colorectal cancer examinations. There are several reasons for this. Some people are not aware of this method of screening, while others forgo having it due to its cost. Others avoid it for the discomfort involved. Another reason is that people may have some misconceptions about the procedure. Reading and asking your doctor about any health-related matter go along way toward clarifying misconceptions. Here are some key things one should know about colonoscopies:
- Colonoscopies save lives.
- The procedure is painless.
- It won’t cause you embarrassment as you will be sedated.
- It does not take a long time.
- Screening is good for 8-10 years.
Remember that not everyone has the symptoms of colon cancer even if they have the disease, and even if they do, the symptoms may be mild so that they are easily dismissed. It is thus important to go and get that screening done. Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. after lung cancer.
Reasons for having a colonoscopy
Your doctor may recommend this examination to identify what is causing your symptoms. The test will assist in treatment and may also suggest further tests. There are various reasons why a colonoscopy may be required.
The following conditions may lead to the need for a colonoscopy:
- Screening and surveillance for colorectal cancer.
- Blood in your stool - If you have had a positive fecal occult blood test (FOBT), then your doctor may recommend a colonoscopy as often blood in stools could be an early sign of bowel cancer.
- To identify the cause of anemia
- To assess a known abnormality or illness of the large intestine such as the disease that causes inflammation of the colon and polyps.
- To review or treat a condition observed in other assessments, like lower gastrointestinal examination or CAT scan
- If there are several relatives in your family who have had colon cancer
- If your country is conducting a bowel cancer checkup program
- To investigate intestinal signs and symptoms - Doctors may use colonoscopy to examine any abnormal symptoms like chronic diarrhea or constipation, rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, or other intestinal problems.
- If you have had polyps before, your doctor may conduct follow-up colonoscopy to detect and remove any additional polyps found, to prevent the occurrence of cancer.
- If you have a history of inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis
- A sudden and consistent change in bowel movements
If none of these conditions are responsible, your doctor will explain to you why you need to have the checkup.
Organizations and media personalities, Katie Couric, for one, have encouraged people for a long time to get a colonoscopy as the best checkup for colorectal cancer. This has made many people in the U.S. go for colorectal screening.
While a colonoscopy is the best, most thorough way to examine the colon for colorectal cancer, there do exist alternatives. However, many physicians nowadays don’t disclose alternatives to colonoscopy. This is unfortunate, since failing to offer colonoscopy alternatives makes some people avoid being examined at all. They fear the colonoscopy procedure itself, the preparations involved, and the possible complications. In other cases, people who don't have medical insurance are unable to raise the money required for the test. Medicare and private insurance cover colonoscopy among other checkups, and people who don’t have medical insurance will be less likely to receive a colorectal examination than those who are insured.
The pros and cons of colonoscopy
In general, most people do not experience any adverse effects from colonoscopy. Among the minor discomforts you may experience are feeling some pain in the abdomen due to the air pumped in and passing more wind than usual. You may also notice minor bleeding when you pass stool, especially if any polyps were removed or a biopsy was taken. In rare cases, there may be some complications involved as would be the case with any medical procedure. Some complications may include tears in the lining of the bowel, major bleeding, or problems with the heart or blood vessels.
A colonoscopy assesses the large intestines through a scope that sends pictures to a monitor while the patient is tranquilized. It is claimed to be the best colon evaluation option, since it helps a physician assess the large intestine and the rectum, and in the same process eradicate growths that can develop into cancer.
The “gold standard” has not been reached as regards colonoscopy being the supreme test, when comparing its effectiveness with that of other tests.
There is research that argues that a colonoscopy is not more effective than a sigmoidoscopy in terms of saving lives. Unlike a colonoscopy, which is carried out once every decade in the absence of cancer or polyps, a sigmoidoscopy is done every five years, and only examines the lower area of the large intestine.
One of the issues with colonoscopy is that it is less likely to discover cancer and growths in the intestines’ right side than in the left. The flatness, paleness, and difficulty of identifying and removing most polyps and cancers in the colon’s left side are the reason behind the difference in its effectiveness. Apart from this, discovering abnormalities can also be more difficult in the colon’s right side because it may have been fully cleansed.
To sum up, colonoscopy has more advantages than disadvantages. If you have concerns, speak to your doctor.