A Colonoscopy Just Might Save Your Life
If you’re going to take anything away from Colon Cancer Awareness Month, let it be this: A colonoscopy can potentially save your life and improve your health in a variety of ways.
Colon cancer is one of the most common types of cancer, affecting 150,000 people each year in the United States. “The frustration for [physicians], is that the vast majority of these cases are preventable,” said Dr. Harvey Guttmann, a gastroenterologist at Abington - Jefferson Health. “Colon cancer increases with age and does not cause any symptoms for most in its early stages.” As a result, identifying risk factors (such as benign polyps) or early signs of cancer is essential to treating it as soon as possible.
Although there are a variety of ways to screen for colon cancer, most experts feel colonoscopy is the best approach. “We’re not just looking for colon cancers when we screen, but benign colon polyps which can grow over years into colon cancer,” said Dr. Guttmann. If a doctor discovers a benign growth, he can remove it before it has a chance to grow into cancer. As a result, removal of polyps can significantly reduce a patient’s risk for colon cancer. According to Dr. Guttmann, as many as 30 percent of people over the age of 50 will harbor polyps. “The good news is that if the exam is normal, a repeat study can be delayed as long as ten years since polyps grow so slowly,” he said.
And it’s not only good for preventing or discovering colon cancer.
“Colonoscopy is not only used to screen for colon cancer in patients who have no symptoms and are of the proper age,” said Dr. Harvey Guttmann. “It’s also performed on patients who have bowel complaints such as bleeding, change in bowel habits, and diarrhea.” In addition to diagnosing colon cancers, colonoscopies are used to diagnose diverticulosis, hemorrhoids, Crohn’s Disease, ulcerative colitis, and other types of abnormalities in the large intestine.
So what exactly does the procedure entail?
According to Dr. Guttmann, colonoscopy is a painless procedure that takes about 20 minutes. Prior to the exam, patients are instructed to follow a specific cleansing procedure that includes a special liquid diet, adjusting medications, and possibly taking a laxative, if recommended by your doctor.
“The procedure is done under sedation and routinely, polyps are taken out of the colon at the same time the screening is performed,” said Dr. Guttmann.