Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers in the United States, accounting for roughly 50,000 deaths each year. In 2020 alone more than 140,000 individuals were diagnosed, according to the American Cancer Society.
Fortunately, there’s a safe and effective way to identify precancerous cells and prevent colorectal cancer: the colonoscopy. Research continues to show the clear impact this screening has on saving lives. One recent study found that, among men and women with an average risk of colorectal cancer, colonoscopies reduced the risk of death from colon or rectal cancer by 67%.
Still, despite this evidence, many of us are hesitant to schedule our regular screening. Some of us think of the procedure as uncomfortable or embarrassing, or we may want to avoid the seemingly unpleasant prep to clear our intestines. But the more we know the more we’ll understand the push towards these important screenings. Discover the truth about colonoscopies, and why you should schedule a screening today.
Who Needs a Colonoscopy?
In 2021, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) updated its recommendations to match the American Cancer Society’s guidelines, lowering the age of a first screening to 45 and continuing to screen until age 75. Based on the findings of your results, you may not need to return for another colonoscopy for 5-10 years.
Colonoscopies are not the only screening option to detect colorectal cancer, but it is the most effective. Your primary care provider will discuss screening options, including which is the best for you.
What Should I Expect During a Colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy allows your doctor to see the entire length of your rectum and colon to look for and remove abnormal growths or polyps. You’ll be asked to prepare for the procedure before it’s scheduled. This preparation includes:
- Emptying the bowels by drinking a prescribed laxative and using enemas
- Following a liquid-only diet for 24 hours before the procedure
Right before the procedure, you’ll receive sedation to help you relax and go to sleep. Then, your doctor will insert a colonoscope (a flexible, lighted tube with a small video camera on the end) slowly into your rectum and colon. If any polyps or growths are found, your doctor can remove them immediately.
What Are the Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer?
A colonoscopy can identify colorectal cancer before symptoms appear, which improves treatment and outcomes. Common symptoms of colorectal cancer include:
- Bloating or feeling full
- Change in bowel habits, including
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Feeling as though bowel does not empty completely
- Blood in stool
- Stool that is narrower than usual
- Feeling very tired all the time
- Frequent gas pains or cramps
- Nausea or vomiting
- Weight loss
It’s important to note that these symptoms may not necessarily be a result of colorectal cancer. Other health problems can produce similar symptoms, which is why it’s important to contact your physician if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms.
What Are the Risk Factors for Colorectal Cancer?
The main risk factors for colorectal cancer are uncontrollable. They include heredity, family history and personal medical history. Other risk factors include:
- Other controllable factors
- Alcohol consumption
- Processed meat consumption
- Red meat consumption
- Presence of an inflammatory bowel disease (i.e., Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, etc.)
Remember, early detection is your best chance for a cure. You should contact your physician if you’re experiencing symptoms or are at risk for colorectal cancer. If your physician feels it’s appropriate, a screening test such as a colonoscopy may be recommended to rule out the possibility of cancer.
Talk to your primary care physician about your risk of colorectal cancer and to determine if you should schedule a colonoscopy.
At Winship Cancer Institute, we’re committed to advancing the standard of care for all our patients, including those diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer. Learn more about our colorectal cancer treatment program or schedule an appointment with our gastrointestinal cancer specialists by calling 404-778-0032.
About Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University
Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University is Georgia’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, a prestigious distinction given to the top 3% of cancer centers nationwide for conducting cancer research and providing training that is transforming cancer care, prevention, detection and survivorship. Winship discovers, develops, delivers and teaches some of the world’s most effective ways to prevent, detect, diagnose and treat each patient’s unique cancer. Cancer care at Winship includes specialists with deep expertise and experience in cancer; multidisciplinary evaluation, treatment planning and care coordination that caters to each patient’s individual needs; therapies supported by the latest advances in cancer research; and comprehensive clinical trials and support services.