Published on February 28, 2022

Man talking to doctor

What You Need to Know About A Colonoscopy

When you turn 45, it’s time for a colorectal cancer screening.

You may have heard stories about the “dreaded” colonoscopy: what the prep is like, what’s involved in the procedure or what happens afterward. T Newsome, MD, an internal medicine physician with Adventist HealthCare Adventist Medical Group helps to break down what to expect with this important cancer screening and when to consider newer stool-based tests.

WHEN SHOULD YOU START SCREENINGS?

The American Cancer Society says cases of colorectal cancer are increasing in those younger than 50. As a result, it recommends people of average risk begin screenings at age 45. “Screenings can identify cancer early and help prevent colon cancer by removing growths before they become cancerous,” Dr. Newsome said. If you have a family history of colon cancer or are diagnosed with certain gastrointestinal or genetic diseases, your doctor may recommend earlier screenings.

WHAT TYPES OF SCREENINGS ARE OFFERED?

Your doctor may recommend screening annually or every few years depending on the test.

  • At-home stool-based tests can be completed yearly or every three years, depending on the type. At-home tests look for abnormalities in your stool. If anything is found, you will need to follow up with a colonoscopy.
  • Visual exams look directly inside your colon and rectum to find any abnormal areas that may be cancer or polyps/ growths and could turn into cancer. These types of exams should be repeated every five to 10 years.

Dr. Newsome said, “While the newer stool-based tests are a great addition and should be used when appropriate, colonoscopies remain the best tool for identifying cancer early.”

WHAT IS A COLONOSCOPY REALLY LIKE?

We’ve heard the stories and maybe even joked about it with family and friends. Dr. Newsome said colonoscopies are not as bad as they are made out to be. Here are a few facts:

  • The prep is easier than it used to be. Yes, you need to spend time in the bathroom, but you don’t have to camp out. Even the taste and the needed amount of the liquid prep solution have improved in recent years.
  • The procedure isn’t painful. You’ll be asleep and most people don’t remember the test. There is no pain once you wake up. Some people experience slight side effects from the sedation.
  • Colonoscopies are safe. The risk is minimal and outweighed by the benefit of early detection. Your risk of developing cancer is higher than any risk associated with the procedure.

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