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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.