March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Colorectal cancer affects 1 in 20 adults and remains the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. There has been great progress in both the prevention and early detection of colorectal cancers with the use of screening colonoscopies, yet 1 in 3 adults remain untested. *
1. Who is at risk for colorectal cancer?
Colorectal cancer affects 1 in 20 adults, both men and women, and remains the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Over 60% of these deaths could be prevented with screening programs for colorectal cancer. **
2. How do you get colorectal cancer?
Most colorectal cancers arise from a previous polyp in the colon or rectum. Over a 10-15 year period, this polyp could turn into cancer. If you find a polyp, and remove it, you’ve prevented that polyp from ever turning into colorectal cancer. Small colorectal cancers found before they ever start causing any symptoms have the highest chance of successful treatment.
3. What are the symptoms of colorectal cancer?
Most patients that have colorectal cancer do not show symptoms or pain, which is why it is extremely important to have screenings for early detection. If you should develop any kind of symptoms, such as blood in the stools or a persistent change in bowel habits, you should schedule a diagnostic colonoscopy.
4. How can you prevent colorectal cancer?
Studies have repeatedly shown that screening for colorectal cancer is effective and can save lives. Over the last 10 years, colorectal cancer deaths have already dropped 30%, largely due to the increased use of screening colonoscopies. Unfortunately, 1 in 3 adults in this country remain untested.
5. When should I get screened?
The general recommendation for screening colonoscopy is to have it performed once every 10 years, starting at age 50, when risks increase. Any abnormal findings may result in a recommendation to have a follow-up colonoscopy earlier than this 10-year interval.
6. What if I have a family history?
If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, a colonoscopy may be recommended earlier and more often than the standard population. For those who have an increased risk, it is generally recommended that those patients begin screening colonoscopies 10 years earlier from the case of colorectal cancer in their family and usually no later than age 40. These exams should be repeated every 3-4 years from then on.
Approximately 10% of colorectal cancers are hereditary. If you know you are at high-risk or have a strong medical history there are hereditary cancer screenings available for early detection. The Gabrielson Clinic for Women, a partner clinic of Iowa Specialty Hospital, offers this screening.
7. What is a colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy is a screening procedure that looks at the large, inner lining of your large intestine, also known as your colon and rectum, for abnormalities including polyps, ulcers, tumors or bleeding.
A colonoscopy is done as an outpatient procedure, although you must have someone to drive you home following the procedure. It generally takes 20-30 minutes, depending on the ease of negotiating the scope through the colon. Removing any polyps or sampling any abnormal areas may add a little time.
8. Is there preparation for a colonoscopy?
The day prior to the procedure, you will drink a laxative solution to empty your colon of any residual material. The colonoscopy procedure can be difficult to perform if the colon remains filled with stool as small polyps or abnormalities may be missed or hidden under retained stool material.
9. Is the procedure uncomfortable?
A colonoscopy is performed under IV Conscious Sedation. This sedation keeps the patient conscious, but comfortable throughout the procedure. It also has the effect of being amnestic, meaning, patients tend not to remember much about their procedure afterward.
10. What happens after the procedure?
Discharge will be dependent on your recovery, including eating/drinking a bit and being up and about. After your procedure, it’s recommended to only participate in light activity for the remainder of that day, with a return to full activity, and work, the following day. If you had a polyp removed, or any abnormal tissue biopsied, you will be given instructions for follow-up to obtain those results and the most appropriate recommendation for when you should get a follow-up colonoscopy.
Dr. Mark Andrew, who specializes in colonoscopy procedures at Iowa Specialty Hospital states, “Of course, no one really wants to go through a colonoscopy. I like to compare colonoscopy to the routine use of screening mammograms for the early detection of breast cancer. There is widespread acceptance of the benefits achieved with the routine use of screening mammography. The goal of getting a screening colonoscopy is the same – early detection for successful treatment. It’s just that there’s a bit more involved with a colonoscopy!”
Colonoscopy remains the gold standard for the early detection and successful treatment of colorectal cancer and other colon abnormalities, which are preventable.
Call Iowa Specialty Hospital at 515-532-9310 to learn more about colonoscopy and to discuss your screening schedule with providers Dr. Andrew and Dr. Conte.