Screening for colorectal cancer is important for your health. There’s a recommendation that people over 50, particularly those with colon disease in their family history get screened however some people just don’t bother whilst others seem to test way too often. It is important to know when and why to test.
Colorectal cancer is becoming an increasingly greater threat of death from cancer but if caught early the survival rate increases about 90% so screening is very important as a diagnostic tool.
Colonoscopies are invasive procedures even though the risks are small. There can be bleeding, bowel perforations or other complications especially if you are older however the advantage is that during a colonoscopy the doctor can take a biopsy (a piece of tissue to look at in the lab), remove precancerous polyps if they are there before they grow and spread.
A Colonoscopy is therefore a procedure that diagnoses problems in the colon which is the large bowel or large intestine. A tube is used about the thickness of a finger and this tube is flexible. Through this tube the doctor can examine the lining of the bowel much better than from an x-ray.
Polyps are small growths on the lining of the bowel. They don’t need to be cancerous. Removal of them is called a polypectomy and is done by putting a wire through the instrument and severing the polyp at the base with a small, painless electric current. If these are removed early enough they don’t become cancerous so this procedure is a way of protecting against colon cancer. Usually after a couple of days patients can begin to follow a normal routine.
Some doctors recommend that it is wise to repeat colonoscopies every five years in patients with previous exposure to cancer whilst others feel the test is needed more frequently. Knowing when to test becomes a difficult decision which needs to be made by a specialist.
The tests need to be performed if a patient has problems such as stomach pain or blood in the stools or if there is a history of colorectal cancer in the family or if the person has personally experienced pre-cancerous growths. If patients are younger, then this invasive procedure can be performed more easily and more frequently and it is a matter of safety that they are carried out if a direct relative has had cancer.
Apart from this elderly people are often best not put through the strain of having a colonoscopy. In the USA tests are performed up to the age of 85 only because after that age there is a risk that older people will be at greater risk from the complications that can occur from the screens themselves. What is astounding though is that the average age for colon cancer diagnosis is usually somewhere around the age of 70.
However the matter of how often to test and when is dependent on the doctor and how he chooses to practice. Often a colonoscopy is done because the doctor concerned has difficulty in performing visual examinations of the colon or worries he may overlook polyps so it becomes a decision of safety for the patient. Patients need to ensure that the procedure is necessary and is not simply being performed as a standard practice by the doctor concerned.
Credit: Jenetta Haim