One thing many of us dread about turning 50 is going in for
our first colonoscopy, as recommended in the American Cancer Society guidelines for the early detection of cancer.
The exam is performed to identify any changes or abnormalities in the large
intestine (colon) and rectum in order to prevent colorectal cancer.
If you feel a little uncomfortable just thinking about having
a colonoscopy, that’s perfectly normal. No one says colonoscopies are fun, but
they are necessary. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer for both men and women. While the number of new cases is still high, it has
dropped dramatically over the past 20 years, which is largely attributed to the
fact that more people are getting colonoscopies.
Colorectal cancer nearly always starts with non-cancerous
(benign) growths called polyps, which would typically be identified and removed
during a colonoscopy. Given the alternative of colon cancer, most would agree that
a colonoscopy is worth the inconvenience.
The colonoscopy procedure involves a flexible tube with a tiny video camera at the tip. This is inserted
into the rectum, allowing the doctor to see the inside of the entire colon. If
polyps or other types of abnormal tissue are detected, they will be removed
through the scope during the exam. Tissue samples (biopsies) can be taken as
well. You should not feel any discomfort and probably won’t remember the
procedure after it’s completed, because the medications commonly used for
sedation during a colonoscopy will put you into a sleepy and relaxing
Some people say the most difficult part of a colonoscopy isthe preparation. This has improved significantly over the years, but it is still necessary to
completely empty the colon in order for the exam to be successful. Instructions
will vary by doctor, but they typically include avoiding solid foods the day
before the exam. On the evening before your colonoscopy, you will take
something prescribed by your doctor to cleanse your bowels, which will likely
The best news is that if no polyps or other abnormalities
are found during the colonoscopy, you generally won’t need another one for 10
years, according to the American Cancer Society. Frequency may vary with
individuals, so be sure to check with your doctor.
If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, or have
other related risk factors or symptoms, you should consult your doctor. You may need to have your
first colonoscopy before you turn 50.
In addition to having a colonoscopy, you
may be able to lower your risk for colorectal cancer with regular physical
activity, good nutrition and a low intake of alcohol. Click here fordetails.
Watch these pages for more cancer-related