Unlike many cancers, colon cancer is preventable. A colonoscopy can help decrease your risk for colon cancer. Colon cancer starts from little growths called polyps that develop on the lining of the colon or rectum. Over time, some of these polyps can become cancerous. During a colonoscopy, doctors spot and remove these polyps, which decreases the risk of colon cancer.
The American Cancer Society and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently revised their guidelines to begin colorectal cancer screening at age 45. This change was driven by data from the past 20 years showing a significant increase in colorectal cancer diagnoses in patients under age 50. Screening should generally continue until age 75. A strong family history, previous polyps and inflammatory bowel disease are indications to begin screening earlier than age 45. It will take time for all health insurers and self-insured employers to adopt these recommendations, so patients should contact their health insurance provider to learn about their insurance coverage for colorectal screening.
Regardless of age, blood in the stool or persistent change in bowel habits should prompt consideration for a colonoscopy.
Doctors call colonoscopies “the gold standard” in colon cancer detection. They can detect more than 95% of cancer cells and large precancerous polyps in the colon.
The procedure takes about 30 minutes, although patients should plan on two to three hours for waiting, preparation and recovery.
The screening is most often done during “twilight sleep,” or conscious sedation. With twilight sleep, 99% of patients are comfortable during the exam and many people don’t even remember it afterwards.
During the screening, the physician will examine the inside of the rectum and the entire colon using a colonoscope. A colonoscope has a light and lens for viewing and a tool to remove polyp tissue or an entire polyp, if necessary.
Patients lie on their side or back while the doctor slowly advances a colonoscope through the large intestine to examine the lining. The screening rarely causes pain.
Colonoscopies are performed by experienced specialists, such as a gastroenterologist, general surgeon, or colorectal surgeon.
A colonoscopy requires that the colon be completely empty. A combination of liquid diet and laxatives are prescribed to cleanse the colon before the procedure. To ensure a successful procedure, patients should carefully follow the preparation instructions provided by their doctor and call with any questions. It is important to note, because the procedure requires sedation, you must have someone else available to drive you home after your appointment.
Providence has safety measures in place to keep patients safe at all times and in all clinics. The most current policies and protocols will be discussed with patients when an appointment is scheduled.