An estimated 145,290 new cases of colon cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year. The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates 104,950 of these new cases will be colon cancer and 40,340 will be rectal cancer.
Colorectal cancer is often treatable and curable when detected early, but many shy away from life-saving screening exams due to fear, embarrassment and a lack of understanding of the procedure.
Putting off a screening exam could cost you your life because symptoms of colorectal cancer are often silent. Regular screenings can help save your life.
One of the most common and effective screenings for colorectal cancer is the colonoscopy. The colonoscopy allows a physician to see and closely inspect the inside of the entire colon for signs of growths and early cancers on the lining of the colon or rectum. These growths are known as polyps and can usually be removed during the colonoscopy.
According to the ACS, here’s what you should expect during a colonoscopy screening exam.
Preparation for the colonoscopy will begin the day before the exam and your physician will give you a special diet to follow and a very strong laxative and/or enema to cleanse the colon. You will have to go to the bathroom a lot, so ask your physician whether you will need to take off from work.
The patient is usually put to sleep for the exam and given a sedative/pain medication to ease any discomfort. The exam usually takes 15-30 minutes, but plan on two to three hours for waiting, preparing and recovery.
A colonoscope, which is a slender, flexible, hollow, lighted tube with a tiny video camera, is gently eased inside the colon and it sends clear pictures of the colon to a TV monitor. The colonoscope is about the thickness of a finger.
If the health care professional sees something that needs further examination, he or she might take a biopsy – a small piece of tissue – out through the colonoscope and send to a lab to test for cancerous cells.
After the colonoscopy, patients will be watched as they awaken and will be given fluids. Patients may have gas, which could cause mild discomfort.
Patients will not be allowed to drive home after the procedure, and transportation arrangements should be made prior to the appointment. If you are 50 years old or older, talk to your physician to schedule your colorectal screening exam.