A screening test is used to look for signs of colon cancer before a person has symptoms. As the risk for colon cancer increases with age, it is recommended that even people without an increased risk for colon cancer start being screened as they get older. Colon cancer usually develops from precancerous polyps, which (if found during a screening test) can be removed before they become cancerous. Screening tests can also find cancer in the early stages when treatment is most effective.
The American Cancer Society recommends people at average risk start regular screenings for colon cancer at age 45. For those at increased risk for colon cancer, earlier or more frequent screenings may be recommended. At GastroIntestinal Specialists, we will discuss your medical and family history, and recommend a screening plan that is right for you based on your individual risk.
What Is A Colonoscopy?
Colonoscopy is the most common procedure performed for colon cancer screening. It is usually performed every 10 years for patients at average risk for colon cancer. This test allows your doctor to check the lining of your entire colon using a thin, flexible tube called a colonoscope. A colonoscopy can find polyps, ulcers and tumors, as well as identify areas of bleeding or inflammation. The procedure can also be used to collect biopsies or remove abnormal growths.
How Is A Colonoscopy Performed?
Prior to a colonoscopy, you will need to undertake colon preparation to clean out your bowel. This takes one to two days, depending on the type of prep required. Before the test, you will be given a gown to wear, and a sedative and pain medications will be administered to make the procedure as comfortable as possible. You will likely feel very sleepy and relaxed. Some patients sleep through the procedure.
Your doctor will insert the colonoscope into your anus, moving it slowly through the rectum and into your colon. A small video camera is attached to the colonoscope that allows your doctor to take video or images of the large intestine and the lower part of the small intestine. Air is used to inflate the colon so that the doctor can see the lining on a computer screen hooked up to the scope.
You may feel the need to have a bowel movement or experience some cramping during the procedure. Deep-breathing and relaxing your abdominal muscles will help. You will also likely hear air escaping around the scope, which is nothing to be embarrassed about. Your doctor will examine the whole colon, and may use tiny tools to collect tissue samples or remove growths. Most patients do not feel anything when biopsies are performed or when polyps are removed. When the colonoscopy is complete, the scope is gently removed.
The test usually takes 30 to 45 minutes, but it may take longer if biopsies and/or growth removal are required. You will feel sleepy for a few hours after the test. You may experience bloating or gas pain, and may need to pass gas. If polyp removal or a biopsy was performed, you may have traces of blood in your stool for a few days. Your doctor will provide full instructions on any post-procedure requirements.
You can find more details on what to expect before, during and after a colonoscopy in our health library here.
At GastroIntestinal Specialists, A.M.C., we offer cancer screenings in addition to treating multiple conditions and diseases of the GI tract. To schedule an appointment, call (318) 631-9121 or click here.