According to the American Cancer Society, colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States. The average adult has about a 1 in 20 chance of being diagnosed with colon cancer, although this varies widely, depending on individual risk factors. Even though colon cancer is on the rise in the US (an estimated 140,250 new cases in 2019), it is relatively treatable when diagnosed at an early stage and can even be prevented by removing precancerous polyps at the time of a screening colonoscopy.
Colon cancer screening starts with reviewing a patient’s medical and family history. If the patient has a family history of colon cancer in a first degree relative, they have an increased chance of developing colon polyps and colon cancer. Colonoscopy is the best way to find and remove precancerous polyps and screen for colon cancer.
The American Cancer Society recommends that patients at average risk have screening colonoscopies every ten years beginning at age 45-50. If a patient has a strong family history of colon cancer or polyps, it is recommended to start screening colonoscopies at the age of 40 (or even earlier depending on the age of diagnosis of the affected relative).
Polyps are abnormal tissue growths that are often small, flat bumps, less than half an inch wide. Rarely, polyps are malignant (cancerous). However, most polyps are benign (non-cancerous). A colonoscopy is the best way to detect polyps while they are small and removable. Colon polyps can develop into colon cancer, so removing them is an important way to prevent colorectal cancer.
It is often said that the colonoscopy preparation is the hardest part of a colonoscopy. Your doctor will explain dietary restrictions and colonoscopy preparation prior to scheduling your colonoscopy.. On the day of the exam, sedation is administered intravenously by our anesthesia staff, so that you will be relaxed throughout the procedure. Patients lie on their left-hand side on an exam table during the procedure, and a thin, flexible colonoscope is inserted into the anus and passed through the rectum and large intestine. Air is then introduced gradually so that the physician can easily view the lining of the colon. Images of the colon are projected onto a video monitor from a special camera at the end of the colonoscope. Polyps can be removed, and biopsies of abnormal findings can be obtained during the colonoscopy. Polyps are usually benign, but they can be precancerous, so it is important to have them removed. Colonoscopies are typically very safe and take between twenty to forty-five minutes to perform. You should plan on spending approximately 2-3 hours at the center on the day of your procedure.