Don't Shy Away From Colonoscopies

Cancer Screening can Save Your Life

When I tell patients they are due for a colonoscopy, they may get a bit squeamish or try to change the subject. Colonoscopies are an essential cancer screening for everyone over the age of 50. Colon cancer can grow without major symptoms and catching it early is vital since it can easily spread to other parts of the body. Colonoscopies are the best way to identify colon cancer.

Colon and rectum cancer are the third deadliest cancer in both women and men. The cancer often begins in a growth called a polyp, which forms on the inner wall of the colon or rectum. Over time, some of the polyps become cancerous. Finding and removing the polyps can prevent colon cancer. Some factors can increase your chance of developing colon cancer, including family history, smoking, increased weight, alcohol use and age. As you get older, your chances of developing colon cancer increases.

During a colonoscopy, a doctor looks at the lining of your large intestine (colon) using a thin, flexible tube. Patients are lightly sedated during the procedure, which is not painful. Doctors can identify ulcers, colon polyps, tumors and areas of inflammation or bleeding along the colon. If any abnormal growths are seen during the colonoscopy, they can be easily removed.

Colonoscopy preparation is what usually makes most people cringe since your colon needs to be “cleaned out” to get the most accurate test results. The colon prep includes taking a laxative and can take a day or two, depending on the method your doctor suggests. In either case, plan to stay home during the preparation since you’ll need to frequently use the bathroom.

Because you will be lightly sedated during the test, you will also need to have someone drive you home. Some people use that or needing to take a day off from work as reasons to not get the test, but those are just excuses. Colonoscopies save lives.

If you have a clean colonoscopy – no polyps or problem areas are seen – you will not need another one for 10 years unless you have troubling symptoms, such as blood in your stool.

The next time your doctor mentions you are due for a colonoscopy, get the test. Try not to dwell on the preparation process and instead focus on how this cancer screening can save your life.

Scott Schuldes is a certified family nurse practitioner at ThedaCare Physicians-Darboy. He can be reached at