If you think the idea of having a colonoscopy is embarrassing or scary,
you are not alone. Many Americans skip this test that looks at the inner
lining of your large intestine because they are afraid, or don’t
know what to expect. Yet an outpatient colonoscopy is the single most
important thing you can do to prevent getting colorectal cancer.
Colorectal cancer is a term used for cancer that starts in the colon or
rectum. These cancers may also be referred to as colon cancer or rectal
cancer, depending on where they begin.
Most colorectal cancers begin as a polyp, a small growth of tissue that
may grow into the colon or rectum if not removed. Polyps can be removed
during a colonoscopy.
Cancer has formed, but it is not yet growing into the colon or rectum walls.
Cancer is growing in the colon or rectum walls; nearby tissue is not affected.
Growth is into tissue or lymph nodes, beyond the colon or rectum walls.
Cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the liver or lungs.
Many cases of colorectal cancer have no symptoms or warning signs until
the cancer has spread. Colonoscopies can help prevent colorectal cancer
or find it at an early stage, when it is smaller and easier to treat.
Am I at risk for colorectal cancer?
Personal Risk Factors
- Age - Although a person can be diagnosed with colon cancer at any age,
90 percent of colorectal cancer is discovered in individuals age 50 and
older. Therefore, being over the age of 50 is considered a risk factor.
- Personal History of Polyps or Cancer - If you have a history of adenomatous
polyps (adenomas), you are at increased risk of developing colorectal
cancer. If you have had colon cancer, even if it has been completely removed,
you are likely to develop cancers in other areas of the colon and rectum.
- Family History - If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, talk
to your doctor about screenings. It is recommended you have a colon screening
before age 50 if you have a family history of colon cancer.
- Personal History of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) - IBD, which includes
ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, is a condition in which
the colon is inflamed over a long period of time. People who have IBD
for many years develop dysplasia – a term used to describe cells
that line the colon and rectum that look abnormal. These cells can change
into cancer over time.
Lifestyle-Related Risk Factors
- Food - Diets high in red meats (such as beef, lamb or liver), processed
meats (hot dogs and luncheon meats) and saturated fats elevate your risk.
Additionally, cooking meats at high temperatures (frying, broiling or
grilling) creates chemicals that may increase your risk of developing
colon cancer. Diets high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains have been
linked with a decreased risk of colon cancer.
- Physical Activity - If you are not physically active, you have a greater
chance of developing colon cancer. Increasing activity may help reduce
- Obesity - If you are overweight, your risk of developing and dying from
colon cancer is increased. A healthy weight decreases your risk of cancer.
- Smoking and Heavy Alcohol Use - Smoking is a well-known cause of lung cancer,
but it is also linked to other cancers like colorectal. Colorectal cancer
has also been linked to the heavy use of alcohol. Alcohol use should be
limited to no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day
When should I have a colonoscopy?
At age 50
if you have no family history of polyps or colon cancer,
At age 45
if you’re African American and have no family history
10 years younger
than the age a first-degree relative (parent, sibling or child) had polyps
or colon cancer.
What should I expect?
- Before a colonoscopy, patients are put on a clear liquid diet and typically
drink a laxative preparation.
- During a colonoscopy, a doctor eases a flexible, lighted tube with a video
camera on the end inside the colon. Small amounts of air are puffed in
to allow the doctor to see clearly. The colonoscope sends pictures to
a TV screen.
- The exam usually takes 30 minutes to an hour.
- You will be sedated (asleep) for the entire exam.
- The colonoscope, also called an endoscope, is about the width of a pea.
For more information contact your health care provider or
North Oaks Surgical Associates at (985) 230-7430 in Hammond or (225) 686-4960 in Livingston. No referral