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