Living Well: Colonoscopy — screening test and treatment all in one |

Living Well: Colonoscopy — screening test and treatment all in one

Memorial Regional Health staff/For Craig Press

Colonoscopies may not be the most simple of screening tests to complete, but they come with a bonus — if the surgeon finds polyps or precancerous growths, he or she removes them. That means it's both a screening test and preventive treatment. Once it's done, there is a good chance you won't have to do it again for another 10 years.

Colonoscopies rule out colon cancer and colorectal cancer. At age 50, it's recommended that both men and women get a baseline colonoscopy.

Colonoscopies are important procedures that often catch cancer before it begins or while it is curable. If you are due, get the test done, and encourage loved ones to also get screened.

Polyp — clumps of cells that can form in mucus linings — are often harmless, but over time, they can develop into cancer. That's why it is important to have colon polyps removed. General surgeons are well-trained in performing colonoscopies.

According to the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons, at least 15 to 20 percent of the adult population has polyps. Since it's impossible to tell which polyps might turn into cancer, surgeons remove all polyps they find during a colonoscopy.

Early colon cancer has very few symptoms. By the time symptoms occur, it is often advanced. Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women.

Recommended Stories For You

Colonoscopy is not the only screening test for colon cancer, but it is the gold standard. Colonoscopy is completed with a long flexible instrument that is used to inspect the entire colon with a camera. Other endoscopy tests, such as sigmoidoscopy, are also used to view the lining of the colon but only reach the lower 6 to 8 inches of the large intestine. Stool tests exist to check for blood, a sign of possible colon cancer.

Memorial Regional Health has an endoscopy suite within the hospital, where general surgeons perform colonoscopies. It is a same-day procedure that takes about 30 minutes to an hour to complete and a total of three hours, including prep and recovery. Patients are sedated with general anesthesia, and most do not feel any discomfort afterward.

The procedure itself is well-tolerated. Most people remember having an IV placed and then wake up wondering when the doctors are going to get started. The part people dislike is the preparation the day before, but it's well worth it. To prepare, patients are put on a liquid-only diet the day before and must drink a solution that clears the bowels.

It's really important to follow the preparation directions thoroughly. If the colon is not empty, surgeons can't see the colon itself, only what's inside it. Remember, it's just one day, and once completed, you'll likely get a pass for 3, 5 — or if no polyps are found — 10 years. Most importantly, you get the peace of mind that your colon is cancer-free.

If you are approaching age 50 or are due for a colonoscopy, call MRH at 970-826-2400 to schedule an appointment. MRH's general surgeons are well versed in performing colonoscopies. If you haven't heard, MRH welcomed a new general surgeon — Dr. Dana Miller, a skilled surgeon with years of experience.

Are you at increased risk for colon cancer?

Your risk for colorectal cancer may be higher than average if any of the following are true.

  • You or a close relative have had colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer.
  • You have inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis.
  • You have a genetic syndrome, such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer.

People at increased risk for colorectal cancer may need earlier or more frequent tests than others. Talk to your doctor about when to begin screening, which test is right for you, and how often you should be tested.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention