Perhaps you’ve heard the news reports saying that everyone should get a colonoscopy after a certain age. Maybe you even remember when Katie Couric of the Today Show got a colonoscopy. This procedure gets a bad rap, but the benefits far outweigh the potential unpleasantness of the procedure itself or even the prep. Screening for colorectal cancer is so important for all men and women, and yet so many people still don’t see a gastroenterologist regularly for screenings. This screening, which usually takes no more than 30 minutes, could just save your life.
You may benefit from a colonoscopy if:
- You are a man or woman over the age of 50 (those over 50 years old are at an increased risk for colorectal cancer)
- You have a family history of colorectal cancer or colon polyps
- You have a personal history of cancer or colon polyps
- You’ve been diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease)
- You are experiencing symptoms of colorectal cancer such as blood in the stool and unexpected weight loss
- You are experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms such as rectal bleeding and abdominal pain (a colonoscopy can diagnose certain intestinal problems)
Healthy individuals at moderate risk for colorectal cancer should start getting screened by 50 years old (yes, women too!). While men are more at risk for colorectal cancer, women can also get this form of cancer and should make getting screened an important part of their preventive healthcare.
You will be placed under conscious sedation while undergoing a colonoscopy, so you will most likely not remember any part of your procedure. During the procedure, your gastroenterologist will carefully place a colonoscope, a thin tube with a camera at the end, into the rectum, and guide it into the large intestines (aka the colon). This procedure allows your doctor to be able to examine the lining of the intestines to look for polyps, bleeds, ulcers, or other issues you may be dealing with. If polyps are found, they can be removed during your colonoscopy.
While age, ethnicity, and gender can play a role in your colorectal cancer risk level, there are other factors as well; however, these factors can be altered by simply improving your lifestyle. These factors include:
- Smoking or using tobacco products
- Leading a sedentary lifestyle
- Eating a poor diet that is high in processed foods
- Heavy alcohol consumption
If the results of your colonoscopy are normal then you probably won’t need another one for about 10 years; however, those at an increased risk for colorectal cancer may want to get screened before age 50 and consider getting screened more regularly. This is something that you should discuss with your doctor.