Healthy Tahoe: How important is a colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy is a potentially life-saving preventative screening test. Its primary role is preventing or finding colorectal cancer when it’s most treatable. Recommended every 10 years starting at age 45, a colonoscopy allows your provider to see problems such as inflammation or bleeding in the large bowel, and it can be life-saving if a tumor or precancerous growths, called polyps, are detected.
Colorectal cancer is the second most common cancer and the third leading cause of cancer-related death in men and women under age 50 in the United States. Due to recent spikes in cases, the American Cancer Society changed the recommended screening age from 50 to age 45, marking it as one of the most important measures you can take for your health.
A colonoscopy can be done at any age for evaluation of symptoms. In adults, however, the top reasons to get one for colorectal cancer screening purposes includes an age of 45 or older or if there is a family history of colorectal cancer. People at higher risk for colorectal cancer are those with personal history of colon polyps or a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) who has had the disease. However, according to the American Cancer Society, the risk is even higher if that relative was diagnosed with colorectal cancer when they were younger than 60, or if more than one first-degree relative is affected.
Higher risk people may benefit from starting colorectal cancer screening at an earlier age than 45 and/or more frequent follow up colonoscopy, so it is most important to talk to your provider about when colorectal cancer screening is appropriate for you.
Regardless of age or family history, keep an eye out for major, consistent shifts in bowel habits, such as constipation, diarrhea, changes in stool size or shape, bleeding during bowel movements, unexplained weight loss, or persistent abdominal pain. Lifestyle modifications have been shown to lower an individual’s risk for colorectal cancer include engaging in physical activity, not smoking, limiting alcohol intake, and eating a healthy diet.
There are two types of tests to screen for colon cancer: a stool test and a colonoscopy. A stool test, or fecal immunochemical test, checks blood (hemoglobin) in the stool, which can be a sign of colon cancer. Performed at home on a yearly basis using a test kit, it involves taking a small stool sample and giving it to your provider. The test screens for hemoglobin which is a component of blood in the stool. If a stool test detects an abnormality, additional follow up with a colonoscopy would be recommended to identify the cause. If a fecal test proves positive, a colonoscopy is the next step for detection and removal of any precancerous polyps.
A colonoscopy is performed every 10 years starting at 45 by a health care provider using a lighted, flexible tube to look inside the rectum and colon. During the test, the doctor can find and remove polyps, growths that can become cancerous. Once removed, polyps no longer pose a threat, reducing or eliminating your odds of developing colorectal cancer.
It’s important to know your family history and to follow colon cancer screening recommendations. Talk with your provider to learn more about your risk factors and if you’re 45 — don’t wait to get a screening.
Dr. Azadeh Brumand is a board-certified gastroenterologist with Barton Gastroenterology. Barton Gastroenterology provides a wide range of services including EGD (Esophago-Gastro-Duodenoscopy), colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, and diagnosis and treatment of diseases such as reflux/GERD, cancer, polyps, ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease, hepatitis, and liver disease. Contact your primary care provider for a referral to obtain the right care based on services needed. For more information, visit BartonHealth.org/Gastroenterology.
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