Suggested Searches
View All
View All
View All
General Results

News & Stories

Five things you should know about colon cancer screenings

Comfortable colonoscopy exams are more accurate and safer.
To mark National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in March, University of Minnesota Health Gastroenterologist Michael Shaw, MD, answers common concerns about colon cancer screening.

Shudder at the thought of a colonoscopy?

You shouldn’t, according to University of Minnesota Health Gastroenterologist Michael Shaw, MD. Most people only feel minor discomfort during the procedure. Because doctors are able remove potentially cancerous polyps during the procedure, a colonoscopy is also the only cancer screening that combines detection and primary prevention, Shaw said.

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and in honor of the awareness event Shaw offers these helpful facts and tips about colon cancer screening:

Most people should begin colon cancer screening at age 50, and repeat the process every 10 years.
This standard holds true for people with no family history of colon cancer or other risk factors, Shaw said. But if one or more of your first-degree relatives (including your father, mother or siblings) have been diagnosed with colon cancer, you may need to begin screening at an earlier age and with shorter intervals between screenings, Shaw said.

You may need screen more frequently if doctors conducting the colonoscopy find benign colon polyps during the screening. Roughly 30 percent of colonoscopy patients have polyps, which can eventually develop into cancer if left untreated. Depending on the number and size of the polyps found, doctors may request that you schedule more frequent screenings.

People who have a history of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease may also need heightened surveillance because they are at a greater risk for colon cancer.

For the vast majority of patients, the procedure is not painful.
Some people are anxious about colonoscopies, but very few patients actually experience any discomfort during the procedure, Shaw said. Nurses work with patients before the procedure to answer any questions and address concerns to help make the procedure less worrisome. Most patients receive conscious sedation for the procedure. Conscious sedation may not be adequate for a small selection of patients. Unconscious sedation is available for those individuals. Your care team will work with you to identify your needs.

“The team that’s taking care of the person really wants to make sure they have a comfortable exam,” Shaw said. “Comfortable exams are more accurate and safer.”

Preparation for a colonoscopy is important.
Emptying the contents of your colon is important for a successful, accurate colonoscopy. Prepping for a colonoscopy begins in earnest the day before the procedure, Shaw said, although patients should consider switching to a low-fiber diet that excludes whole grains, nuts and dried fruit several days before the screening.

The day before the colonoscopy, patients are asked to refrain from consuming solid foods. Patients must also consume a bowel prep, which will clear the bowel. Shaw recommends consuming half the prep the day before the procedure and half the day of the procedure. Exact instructions may change based on the preferences of your doctor.

A colonoscopy is one of the few screening methods that offers both detection AND prevention.
If doctors find any polyps during the exam, they will remove them during the colonoscopy. For that reason, colonoscopies are the only cancer screening method that currently offers both detection and direct prevention, Shaw said.

“Other screenings are focused on preventing death from cancer, not preventing development of cancer,” Shaw said.

Learn more about our colonoscopy services at Minnesota Endoscopy Center.

There are other screening methods besides a colonoscopy.

While a traditional colonoscopy is the gold standard for colon cancer screening methods because offers a thorough examination of the whole colon, other methods exist. These alternatives include the flexible sigmoidoscopy, which only evaluates the rectum and the lower third of the colon. Patients using this method should receive a sigmoidoscopy every five years, Shaw said.

Patients can also choose hemoccult testing, which detects blood in stool samples (one sign of colon cancer). To be effective, the hemoccult testing must be repeated every year, Shaw said.