DETROIT (FOX 2) - A colonoscopy that catches colon cancer early could save your life.
Even if you think are healthy, getting a colonoscopy is important because it can detect cancer, even if you are not experiencing symptoms.
We spoke with Dr. Amalia Stefanou, a colon and rectal surgeon with Henry Ford Health System, about common questions many people have when it comes to colonoscopies.
At what age should I get a colonoscopy?
Recent studies have shown that incidences of colon cancer are rising among young adults. As a result, the American Cancer Society and our cancer experts at Henry Ford now recommend that for individuals with an average risk of colon cancer (no family history of colon cancer or other risk factors) colonoscopy screenings take place at age 45, rather than the previous recommended age of 50.
Health authorities recommend people who are at average risk of colorectal cancer begin colonoscopy screening at age 45. People who have a family history of the disease, those who have had benign polyps or people who have other risk factors like inflammatory bowel disease, should discuss when to start screening with their doctors. Some people may need to start colonoscopy screening as early as age 21.
How important is it that I get a colonoscopy?
Most people who have polyps, and even those who have colon cancer, don’t experience any symptoms. That’s why screening with colonoscopy is so important. The simple procedure allows doctors to detect cancer in earlier, more treatable stages. It also gives them an opportunity to remove polyps during the exam and prevent a cancer from developing.
Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States. If found early, it’s also one of the most curable cancers. It’s believed that most colon cancers start off as polyps on the inside of the colon. Polyps themselves are very common, and many people will have polyps in their lifetime. While there are various ways to screen for polyps, a colonoscopy has the highest detection rate. A colonoscopy is the only way polyps can be removed to prevent them from becoming cancerous.
How frequently should I get a colonoscopy? Are there any factors that would increase that frequency?
In between colonoscopies, it’s important to stay on top of your gastrointestinal health and discuss any changes in bowel habits with your doctor.
You can wait 5-10 years before your next colonoscopy screening.
What are some signs I should get a colonoscopy if I haven’t yet reached the recommended age?
Health authorities recommend people who are at average risk of colorectal cancer begin colonoscopy screening at age 45. People who have a family history of the disease, those who have had benign polyps or people who have other risk factors like inflammatory bowel disease, should discuss when to start screening with their doctors. Some people may need to start colonoscopy screening as early as age 21. Talk with your primary care physician about a schedule that works for you!
Aside from colon cancer, what other diseases or problems could a colonoscopy detect?
Colonoscopies can detect conditions like colitis, inflammatory bowel disease and diverticulosis. But mainly, doctors are looking for precancerous or cancerous colon polyps, which are growths on the inside of the colon’s lining. If the doctors spot polyps, they can quickly and painlessly remove them during the same colonoscopy.
How should I prepare for my colonoscopy?
Unfortunately, a clean colon is required for doctors to find and remove polyps – and that requires some preparation. Colonoscopy prep has two parts: diet and a course of strong laxatives. It might sound daunting, but these six steps will help you sail through:
- Follow instructions. Your doctor will provide you with detailed instructions prior to your exam. The goal of these instructions is to help you clean out the digestive tract so your doctor can easily see polyps and other abnormalities – and so you don’t have to go back for a second look. Make sure you understand the instructions and call your doctor with any questions.
- Stock your bathroom. Pick up your physician-prescribed liquid laxative, along with some medicated wipes with aloe and vitamin E and skin-soothing moisturizer (such as Vaseline or Aquaphor). You might even consider applying diaper rash ointment or hemorrhoid cream before prep to help protect your skin.
- Watch your diet. A few days before the procedure, you’ll need to avoid whole grains, raw fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds and meat. Instead, you’ll eat mostly white foods – things like rice, pasta, bread and potatoes, along with cooked or canned fruits and vegetables.
- Drink clear fluids. The day before screening, you’ll eat a clear liquid diet – things like apple juice, Jell-O, clear soft drinks, popsicles and broth. Drinking a lot of fluids will help you stay hydrated. Just avoid anything with red, blue or purple dye.
- Doctor your prep drink. A lot of people find the prep drink tough to tolerate. To make it more palatable, keep it cold, drink through a straw and suck on lemon-flavored or tart candies after each glass to squelch the unpleasant taste. If the solution doesn’t come flavored, you can also add powdered drink mix for flavor (as long as it’s not red, blue or purple – try lemon flavor).
- Stay on schedule. For many people, the most difficult part of a colonoscopy is making the appointment. The key is to stay on schedule in terms of when you’re supposed to get screened. On prep day, you’ll need to be close to a bathroom. On test day, you will be sedated and will need time for the medication to wear off.
What kinds of complications are associated with colonoscopies?
In general, colonoscopies are safe and well-tolerated. Most people don’t even remember the procedure. And after it’s over, we can tell you if there were any polyps or signs of cancer and when your next scope will be due.
A colonoscopy is a routine exam, but it’s normal to feel anxious. A colonoscopy is one of the safest procedures we perform. The biggest risks with colonoscopy are bleeding and perforation, which are very rare. Generally, they occur once in every 2,000 colonoscopies.