Regular screenings are the best way to prevent and detect colon and rectal cancer early. While colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer among men and women in the U.S., it is also highly treatable when caught in the beginning stages.
Colorectal cancer rarely causes symptoms when it first develops. That is why a screening test, called a colonoscopy, is so important. A colonoscopy can detect cancer early and find precancerous polyps—abnormal growths in the colon or rectum — so they can be removed before turning into cancer. Everyone who is eligible should have a colonoscopy beginning at age 50.
“If we do a colonoscopy on 100 people at the age of 50, as many as 30 people will have precancerous polyps,” says Kelly Krueger, MD, a gastroenterologist at Summit Medical Group (SMG). “A colonoscopy allows us to find these growths and remove them before they turn into something bad 10 years down the road.”
What is a colonoscopy?
- This 30-minute test allows your doctor to look at the inside of your colon and rectum for any signs of cancer or small growths called polyps that can become cancerous over time.
- You will be sedated with a light anesthesia for about an hour and sleep through the procedure.
- A flexible tube called a colonoscope with a tiny camera on the end is inserted into your rectum. The camera sends pictures to a small TV screen.
- If your doctor finds polyps, they may be removed during the procedure. This will lower your risk of developing cancer in the future.
- Abnormal growths, such as large polyps or tumors, may be biopsied or removed and sent to the laboratory for testing.
- The test is typically repeated every 10 years unless you are at high risk for colon cancer.
How I prepare for my colonoscopy?
- Your bowels must be completely empty to get clear pictures of the colon and rectum.
- During your phone call with the doctor’s office you will be given instructions for bowel prep.
- The day before the procedure you will be on a liquid-only diet.
- You will be given a substance to drink that contains laxatives. This will make you go to the bathroom frequently and help clean out your bowels.
How will I feel after the procedure?
- You may feel tired.
- You may experience minor bloating.
- A family member or friend will need to drive you home.
- You will not be able to work for the remainder of the day.
I have heard about other noninvasive screening methods for colon cancer. Why is a colonoscopy best?
- Cologuard is a noninvasive stool test that can find hidden blood in your stool and identify changes in your DNA that are signs of cancer.
- Unlike a colonoscopy, stool tests cannot identify and remove precancerous polyps.
- A colonoscopy continues to be the gold standard for colon and rectal cancer screening. Patients who are eligible and able to be sedated should have the procedure.
- Cologuard is about 90 percent accurate when detecting colon cancer. If a stool test is positive, your doctor will send you for a colonoscopy.
COMING SOON TO SMG: Direct Access Colonoscopy
SMG’s new direct access colonoscopy scheduling tool will make prevention even easier for patients. The service is designed for patients, ages 50 to 75, who are in generally good health and not actively experiencing symptoms, such as rectal bleeding or abdominal pain. A referral from a primary care physician is not required and there is no need for a pre-procedure appointment in most instances.
How will Direct Access Colonoscopy work?
- Patients will be able to sign up for a colonoscopy directly through SMG’s online tool. You do not need a referral.
- The system will match you with a local physician, or you can request a doctor you already know.
- Within five business days, the physician’s office will call you to complete a 10-minute colonoscopy assessment questionnaire.
- If you are eligible for the procedure, an appointment will be scheduled.
- During the phone call, a nurse will explain how you need to prepare your bowel for the procedure.
Who is eligible for a Direct Access Colonoscopy?
- Anyone over 50 years old who is in generally good health.
- If you have medical problems and are not in good health you may still need a colonoscopy, but an appointment with a gastroenterologist will need to be done first.
- If you have a family history of colorectal cancer or inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease, you may need to be screened before age 50.
Talk to your physician about the right time to start.
If you are over 75 years old, have difficulty with anesthesia, a history of bleeding disorders or sleep apnea, or medical conditions that affect the heart, lung, liver or kidney, please talk with your doctor about whether you are eligible for a colonoscopy.
“The easier we make the procedure, the more patients will be screened,” says Dr. Krueger. “Direct access colonoscopy is designed to make screening for colon and rectal cancer as convenient as possible for healthy patients who are busy and do not need a pre-procedure appointment.”