Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in both men and women. In 2010, 52,000 people died from this disease. It is predicted that there will be 132,000 new cases of colorectal cancer diagnosed this year. With increased use of screening colonoscopies, these numbers are declining. However, only 67% of people over the age of 50 have been properly evaluated for colorectal cancer.
Colonoscopy is the gold standard for colorectal cancer screening and should be performed at age 50 for the average person. Depending on initial findings, screenings should be performed every five to 10 years thereafter. Of course, a strong family history of colon cancer or specific gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, bleeding, or anemia may prompt your physician to recommend the procedure prior to age 50.
Most colon cancers are thought to originate from polyps. Polyps develop from an abnormal growth of tissue on the colon lining that has the potential to grow uncontrollably into a cancer, similar to a mole on the skin. Thus, periodically having a colonoscopy to remove visible polyps will prevent the development of colon cancer. Once a colon cancer develops, the sooner it is removed the better the prognosis.
To undergo a colonoscopy, you must prepare by drinking very strong laxatives the day prior to the procedure, and only drinking liquids on that day. The day of the procedure you will present to the endoscopy lab where an IV will be inserted to administer the sedation. Once you are sedated, your physician will insert the colonoscope into the rectum and pass it to the opposite end of the colon. The colon is then carefully examined for any abnormalities. During the procedure, biopsies may be taken and polyps removed for evaluation. Once the procedure is complete, you are closely monitored until you are fully awake and ready to be discharged home (usually no longer than 30 minutes). The only restriction upon discharge is not being able to drive for eight hours.
Please schedule a consultation with your physician if you are age 50 or older and have not yet had a colonoscopy. You’ll also want to contact your doctor if you have a family history of colon cancer or if you are having gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, anemia, or bleeding. Your doctor will be able to discuss any concerns you may have and together you can determine the appropriate time for you to have this procedure performed.
When you receive screening colonoscopies at the recommended time intervals, you should have a life free from colon cancer.
David Oelsner, MD is a board certified gastroenterologist who practices at Granger Medical Clinic in West Valley City and Tooele, Utah. Appointments can be made by calling 801.965.3698.
Originally printed in Granger Medical Clinic’s magazine, Spring 2014.