Colorectal cancer, also known as colon cancer, is a world-wide health problem, especially in developed countries. Colorectal cancer is a preventable cancer, and the key to prevention is proper screening and testing. One of the diagnostic procedures used to detect colorectal cancer is a colonoscopy.
What is a Colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy is a procedure used by doctors to examine the colon and the bowel. It involves inserting a small tube with a camera through the anus for the internal examination. The inner lining of the colon is examined for pre-cancerous growths or early cancer, which is then removed through the scope before they spread. A tissue sample (biopsy) can be taken during a colonoscopy, as well. Before the procedure, patients may have to refrain from eating solid food and may be sedated to minimize discomfort during the procedure.
Most often, your doctor would advise you regarding the procedure and the fact that you would be given drugs to ensure that you do not feel any discomfort during the process. This is one of the reasons why your doctor would ask you to bring a loved one to the procedure since it would not be possible for you to drive yourself home, once the procedure is complete.
Apart from being used to diagnose colon cancers, a colonoscopy can also be done to diagnose inflammatory bowel disease, intestinal hemorrhages, or other unexpected changes in bowel habit. It is essential that you get a colonoscopy every now and then since the procedure is quite effective as a diagnostic tool and the colon can indicate underlying health issues well before other physical symptoms of the condition start to manifest.
This is why it is suggested that all patients get a complete medical checkup once a year including a colonoscopy to help screen and diagnose serious health conditions well in advance. Doing so, the doctor can catch the condition in its early stages and treat you successfully for the same.
The Right Age for a Colonoscopy
The effects of cancer can be felt by anyone, and the best way to avoid potential complications is by visiting your doctor regularly to be screened. Understanding the best time to be screened is important when combating a potential disease. This is why the colonoscopy procedure is often suggested as a way to screen you for cancer and spot indications of it well in advance.
Average adults who face the risk of colon cancer should get a colonoscopy at the age of fifty. The general recommendation is that men and women get colonoscopies at the age of 50 and the next one every ten years. Both men and women stand a 1 in 20 chance of developing colon cancer. Statistics have proven that colon cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer related deaths in women. Persons suffering from certain diseases like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (ulcerative colitis) and Crohn's disease may have to get earlier screenings, as recommended by their doctor.
It is important that you get this procedure done regularly; you may want to consult your doctor to better understand your risks from cancer and determine if you need the colonoscopy or not, or how often. And if you are susceptible to irritable bowel syndrome, then your doctor may recommend that you take a colonoscopy every once in a while.
The reason for recommending screening to start at age 50 is because 90% of colorectal cancers occur in people above 50 years of age. Moreover, the polyps that cause these cancers take at least ten years to develop, so early screening is used to detect and remove them before they cause complications. Hence, it is a matter of common sense to begin screening at age fifty. But you may want to opt for regular screenings once in a while, after that to ensure that any and all indications of cancer are spotted well in advance.
Is it Necessary to Get a Colonoscopy?
Many people may wonder if they should get a colonoscopy if they have no family history of colon cancer. The statistics for colon cancer are impressive, and it is proven beyond doubt that colonoscopies save lives. The bottom line is that colon cancer is preventable if detected at an early stage. A large number of people develop colon cancer, and these figures can decrease considerably if some people undergo colonoscopy as recommended.
It is vital that you consult your doctor at the earliest and get a better understanding of this procedure and as to why it is essential for you to get one periodically. It is a vital diagnostic tool, and more importantly, the colon often indicates serious health issues and points out that something is wrong with your body, well before the symptoms start showing up elsewhere. This gives your doctor valuable time and a head start for you, to get treated for the condition well in advance before it starts impacting your health.
The benefits of colonoscopies for the elderly, i.e., people above the age of 85, may be reduced, as there may be the added risk of mortality from other diseases. Doctors may take this decision based on other health risks and factors. This is why you need a medical consult prior to taking a colonoscopy so that your doctor can assess as to whether you can withstand the procedure or not.
Risk Factors That Necessitate Earlier Screening
Other people may need to get screened earlier in their lives due to a number of factors. Some may be more vulnerable to colon cancer than others due to the risk factors involved. For example:
- African-Americans are at a higher risk of contracting colon cancer, and thus the age of getting a colonoscopy is lowered to around 45 years old. Research has shown a more prevalent connection between colon cancer and African-Americans than other races. So if you belong in this particular racial group, then you definitely need to consult your doctor to better understand your susceptibility to colon cancer, and the need to get a colonoscopy done well in advance. This will enable your physician to catch it well in advance, remove the polyps and treat you for the same effectively before it can spread to the rest of your body.
- Having a family history of polyps in the colon or colon cancer itself are determinants of whether a woman should go for a colonoscopy at a younger age. Almost 10% of colon cancer cases are genetically connected, and a descendant can more easily inherit the gene responsible for the condition. You may be at higher risk of getting colon cancer if your immediate family (child, sister, brother, or parent) is diagnosed. Research shows that family history plays a major role in the likelihood of cancer. This means that if you have a sibling that was diagnosed at the age of 50, you should get screened at age forty. So when you consult your doctor you need to inform your doctor regarding your family’s medical history and that you may be genetically predisposed to get colon cancer. Since there is an increased likelihood that you will, your doctor would suggest regular colonoscopy regularly, to help spot it well in advance.
Though the recommended age for a colonoscopy is generally fifty, you should still consult your doctor for advice when it comes to issues affecting you. This includes the screening window and potential alternatives. Keep in mind that colon cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer. Patients who are diagnosed with colon cancer in its early stages have the greatest chances of beating the disease. This is what makes colonoscopy a valuable diagnostic tool, it enables you to determine if you have colon cancer well in advance since the colon often indicates serious health issues which should be visible in the colonoscopy recordings. The doctor would review the procedure and if the colon indicates a particular health issue, he would then treat you for the same. But all said and done, a colonoscopy is one of the few procedures that can help catch colon cancer well in advance, thereby enabling the doctor to treat your condition on time.
Other Screening Methods for Colon Cancer
The colonoscopy procedure has contributed a great deal in the fight against cancer. This is attributed to the fact that it not only detects cancer, but also detects colon polyps before they develop into cancer, making prevention possible. Most doctors strongly advise their patients to go for this kind of screening often. There are still a number of other screening methods:
- Double contrast barium enema - This procedure involves liquid barium being inserted in the rectum enabling the doctor to get x-rays of the colon and the rectum.
- Fecal occult blood test - This test checks for blood in the feces. Presence of blood in the feces is a sign of health complications in the colon or rectum.
- Virtual colonoscopy - This procedure uses x-rays and computers to take images of the colon.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy - This involves inserting a flexible tube called a sigmoidoscope into the anus and the colon, allowing the doctor to examine the area.
If you've never had a colonoscopy and you are showing any of the aforementioned symptoms, seek immediate medical attention. Even if you are asymptomatic, it is important you schedule a colonoscopy as a preventative measure. Make sure that you consult your doctor so that he can better explain the procedure, the duration and why it is important to go in for regular screenings.
Your doctor may even use the procedure to check for other serious health conditions from irritable bowel syndrome to other forms of cancer. This is why it is important that you seek medical attention right away in case of experiencing any symptoms. And if your healthcare professional cannot diagnose your condition correctly, then he will prescribe colonoscopy in order to determine the root cause for your symptoms.
It is important that you are completely upfront with your doctor regarding your medical condition and whether you are currently taking any medication at the moment and if so, for what as this may have a bearing on the procedure. Your doctor needs this information to ensure that there are no complications in the procedure and that any medication he prescribes does not react adversely with any other medication that you may be taking at the moment. This is why it is important that you are completely honest with your doctor and that you also inform your doctor regarding anything that you may be allergic to at the moment.
It is strongly advised that you inform your doctor regarding any medications and substances that you may be allergic to since he would be prescribing some medication prior to the procedure to help alleviate some of the symptoms. It is essential that you inform your doctor regarding this so that you do not develop sudden allergic reactions when the procedure is underway.
And if you are not sure about what you are allergic to and the various allergens, you can always request your doctor to run a full panel allergy test which should help provide you with a list of various allergens that you are susceptible to at the moment. And in case you still develop allergic reactions when the procedure is underway or just completed, your doctor may keep you at the hospital to better diagnose your condition and to understand why you started developing allergic reactions.
A colonoscopy is an essential procedure and one that you would need to undergo every once in a while to check for indications of serious health issues like colon cancer, well in advance as well as for indications of other health issues.
If you are over 50 years of age, you should have a colonoscopy or whichever method will be used to determine if you have colorectal cancer or not. Additionally, if you have a family member who has had colorectal cancer before, don’t hesitate, as you are at a higher risk of being attacked by the same condition. You should even start earlier to help detect the cancer at its early stages. If you fall into the appropriate age group, you have any of the aforementioned symptoms, or you have a family history of colon cancer, you should make an appointment with a gastroenterologist as soon as possible.