Think You Don’t Need a Colonoscopy? Think Again
Minimally invasive screening tests such as a colonoscopy, can help doctors find cancerous or pre-cancerous growths in the colon long before any symptoms appear. The standard screening age for colonoscopy is 50 years old, or possibly earlier if there is family history or possible symptoms of colorectal cancer.
Colon cancer rarely causes symptoms at first. You may feel perfectly fine even as cancerous cells begin to attack the lining of your rectum or large intestine (colon). By the time you begin to experience changes in bowel habits, abdominal pain, bleeding or any other symptoms, the cancer may be quite advanced.
A colonoscopy offers these important benefits:
- Identification of pre-cancerous polyps: During a colonoscopy, your doctor may remove small growths called polyps that grow in the lining of the rectum or colon. Polyps can be benign (non-cancerous), pre-cancerous or cancerous. Removing benign and pre-cancerous polyps prevents the growths from ever becoming cancerous. This lowers your risk of developing colorectal cancer.
- Earlier cancer detection: The sooner cancer is diagnosed, the better the outcome. Diagnosing and treating colon cancer early prevents it from spreading and allows less invasive treatments to be used. It also increases the survival rate.
How Do Colonoscopies Work?
Colonoscopies allow your doctor to view the lining of your rectum and colon without performing surgery. Your doctor inserts a thin, flexible probe into your rectum during the procedure, then slowly passes it through your large intestine. A miniature camera attached to the end of the probe sends images to a digital monitor.
During a colonoscopy, doctors look for lesions, bleeding areas, polyps and changes in the lining of the rectum and colon. If your doctor spots a polyp, he or she will remove it and send it to a laboratory for testing. Samples of lesions or bleeding tissue may also be removed for analysis.
If your colonoscopy doesn’t reveal any issues, you won’t need another test for 10 years. If a polyp or other concerning change is discovered, you may be instructed to repeat colonoscopies more often, such as every 3 or 5 years.
Are You at Risk for Colorectal Cancer?
You may be more likely to develop the disease if you:
- Use alcohol excessively
- Eat a high-fat, low-fiber diet
- Are overweight
- Don’t get enough exercise
- Have an inflammatory bowel disease or a family history of colon cancer
- Have had polyps in the past
PIH Health Digestive Health Services and Gastroenterology Specialist, Renee Palta DO says, “Scheduling a colonoscopy is a simple way to protect your health. If you’re 50 or older and haven’t yet had a colonoscopy, consider adding this valuable screening test to your calendar this year. If you have certain risk factors or you have any possible symptoms of colorectal cancer, your doctor may recommend you begin screenings at a younger age.”
To learn more about colorectal cancer screening at PIH Health or to schedule an appointment, call 562.967.2656 or visit PIHHealth.org/Colon.
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