Of cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the U.S.
As an effective method of preventing colorectal cancer, a colonoscopy is a true lifesaver. I have seen this personally many times in my practice.
My Mercyhealth colleague, Dr. Ramez Khoury, and I have cared for patients in southern Wisconsin for many years. We do approximately 1,500 colonoscopies each year—more than 10,000 in the past 10 years!
Most colorectal cancers start in a previously benign (non-cancerous) colon polyp. The majority of these cancers grow slowly over several years.
Warning signs for colon cancer can include blood in the stool (seen on toilet tissue after wiping), a change in bowel habits, weight loss, cramping or stomach pain, tiredness and anemia. These are all reasons to have a colonoscopy.
Usually, however, colon polyps and early-stage colon cancer do not cause symptoms, so doctors cannot rely on symptoms alone to make an early diagnosis.
Removing polyps early, like we do during a colonoscopy, may prevent them from becoming cancer.
Find out if you’re at risk
Colorectal cancer affects men and women of all racial and ethnic groups, and is most often found in people aged 50 and older. The peak age of colorectal cancer diagnosis is after age 60.
Persons at highest risk are those with a family history of colon cancer or colon polyps, a family or personal history other cancers, and inflammatory bowel disease. These individuals need a colonoscopy more often than others, depending on their risk level.
However, a good number people who get the most common kind of colorectal cancer have no family history of it.
Get a screening
There are several ways to detect colon polyps that may turn into cancer.
Stool testing for occult (invisible) blood detects about 50% of patients with colon polyps. Stool testing must be done yearly. When a stool test is positive for occult blood, a colonoscopy must be done.
Other stool tests look for abnormal DNA (genetic information), but these tests are expensive and not readily available.
Virtual colonoscopy is another alternative. It uses CT or MRI imaging to look inside the colon. However, like a conventional colonoscopy that uses a lighted, flexible tube to look inside the colon, it also requires bowel cleansing, and if polyps are found, a regular colonoscopy must be done anyway.
Colonoscopy is considered the gold standard for finding and removing colon polyps and preventing colorectal cancer. For people who are at a high risk for colorectal cancer, colonoscopy can reduce their risk by 70%!
If there is no family history of colon polyps or colon cancer, colonoscopy can be done every 10 years.
Start screening early
In general, most people should start colorectal cancer screenings at age 50. African-Americans should start at age 45. Persons with a family history of colon polyps or colon cancer should start earlier, especially if a relative was diagnosed before age 60. If you are unsure, ask your doctor.
Lose your fears about colonoscopies
Many people are concerned about the preparation for colonoscopy, but there are many alternatives for bowel cleansing, and we have all of them. Once your bowel is clean, you are sedated and given pain medicine. For the most part, patients do not recall pain or discomfort during their procedure.
Here at Mercyhealth, we have a great team of doctors, nurses and technicians who do their best to make colonoscopies as comfortable as possible.
To make an appointment, or for more information, call us at (608) 756-7292.