The Science of Screening: How Colonoscopies Prevent Colon Cancer
A colonoscopy is a procedure to check the inside of your colon for signs of cancer or pre-cancerous growths.
To see into the colon, a gastroenterologist inserts a thin, flexible tube into the rectum. The tube, called a colonoscope, has a tiny light and camera on the end that allows the doctor to carefully examine the colon. Patients are given sedation to relax them and don’t feel the procedure happening.
People are often uncomfortable with the idea of inserting a scope into the rectum, but it’s very safe and pain-free. The colonoscope is so small that it doesn’t cause any strain or discomfort.
The entire procedure is quick, painless, and may save your life.
How Does Screening Prevent Colon Cancer?
During a screening colonoscopy, your gastroenterologist looks at the lining of your colon to check for a potentially cancerous growth called a polyp. A polyp is an unusual growth in the lining of the colon, which is normally smooth. It may look like a bump in the colon wall, or it may grow a stalk and become shaped like a mushroom.
Polyps start out benign but have the potential to become cancerous. There is no way to determine if a polyp will turn into cancer, and it can take years for that to happen. It’s possible to have many polyps and not have any symptoms.
It’s estimated that as many as 40 percent of adults may have polyps. The chance of developing polyps increases with age, which is why the American Cancer Society recommends adults with an average risk of colon cancer have regular screenings starting at age 45.
If your gastroenterologist finds a polyp during a screening colonoscopy, he or she removes it with the colonoscope so it can’t become cancerous.
Why Have a Screening Colonoscopy When You Don’t Have Symptoms?
You may not suspect you have polyps because most don’t cause symptoms. Colon cancer may not cause symptoms, either, in the early stages when it’s most treatable. That’s why screening colonoscopies are so important.
Finding and removing any polyps before they have a chance to become cancerous prevents cancer and saves lives.
Good Preparation Makes Screening Successful
Preparation for a colonoscopy can cause as much concern as the actual procedure, but it is an essential part of the screening. Cutting back on fiber in the days before the procedure makes it easier to thoroughly clean out the colon during the prep.
The day before the colonoscopy, a clear liquid diet combined with a special colon-cleansing drink ensures that the colon lining is visible to the colonoscope.
Believe it or not, the inside of a clean colon is pink! As you can imagine, stool in the colon can make a colonoscopy difficult to impossible. If stool is left in the colon, it can interfere with the camera view of the colon lining or block access to the colon completely. If there is too much stool to proceed, you may have to schedule another colonoscopy.
Successful completion of the prep is critical for a successful screening. If you don’t have any polyps, you may not need to be screened again for ten years.
Should You Have a Screening Colonoscopy?
People with an average chance of developing colon cancer should start screening at age 45. Your doctor may recommend starting earlier, based on your medical history.
Screening colonoscopies stop cancer before it can even start.
Don’t delay your colonoscopy – schedule an appointment today!